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Lee Konitz/Dan Tepfer/Michael Jansch/Jeff Williams: First Meeting: Live in London, Volume 1

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Saxophone icon Lee Konitz, pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Jeff Williams had never performed together before May 2010, when this disc was recorded live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London. It was an entirely “free” outing, as the liner notes tell us: “There was no rehearsal, plan, or preconceived notion … Anyone on the bandstand could simply start playing a melody, and the rest of the band could follow. Or not.” One of the minor miracles of this set, in fact, is how the participants actually figured out what the theme was after one of them stated it. The reference points are usually oblique, to say the least.

For all his reputation for “dryness” and being “cerebral,” Konitz has an acerbic sense of humor, and he’s relentlessly aggressive. Case in point: “Billie’s Bounce,” the opener here, doesn’t bounce at all; it lurks, staggers, crouches, erupts into quick-fire gallops and then cuts back on itself with feline grace. He inhabits every offshoot, acid-toned aside, turnaround and thematic switchback he unfurls with focused intensity. Meanwhile, Tepfer seldom departs radically from canonical constructs, as if he’s determined to provide ballast for the others’ free-sailing adventures. He does, however, alternate low-end rhythmic duties with bassist Janisch, thus freeing Janisch to embark on time-bending excursions as the mood suits him-collective improvisation, of course, being the very essence of the music these men are making.

Despite Konitz’s barbed humor and resolute lack of sentimentality, a true warmth, even an intimacy, is evident throughout. Here are four freedom-bound explorers, meeting and melding yet compromising neither their identity nor their independence, creating music that both manifests and transcends their individual gifts.

Originally Published