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Lee Konitz: Chicago & All That Jazz

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At his best when undistracted by too many other instruments, Lee Konitz the improviser has always excelled in a shorn-to-the-bones format, in this case a trio consisting of himself on alto, bassist Ron McClure, and drummer Billy Hart. Typically, on four of his own themes—”Thingin’,” “Boo Doo,” “It’s You” and “Mella”—McClure’s “April in Nimes” and Matt Dennis’ “Angel Eyes,” Lee applies his well-centered, melancholy sound and ever-fertile imagination to constantly rewarding effect. Note also that both McClure and Hart, though long experienced in more assertive types of jazz, here play with the intelligence and restraint that any Konitz-based situation calls for.

Recorded 21 years earlier in 1975, the Sonny Lester-produced Chicago & All That Jazz is a different matter entirely. First of all, rather than being built around Konitz’ solo artistry on personally chosen selections, this is an overly-arranged commercial effort designed to capitalize on the popularity of the Broadway show. Not only does Konitz, playing both soprano and alto, have to share solo space with some rather unlikely companions in the 13-piece band, but he also has to contend with a then-in-vogue synthesized string section and a cutey-pie 2/4 rhythmic backing. It must be said, though, that Konitz emerges supreme despite the distractions and the mediocrity of both the material and the arrangements.

Originally Published