Lee Konitz is "one of the most consistently brilliant, adventurous and original improvisers in the jazz tradition" (John Zorn). His recorded legacy is massive and uniquely influential, stretching back to his recordings in the late 1940s with the Claude Thornhill Band, Lennie Tristano and Miles Davis, and his debut as leader in 1949.
This recording, First Meeting: Live in London, Volume 1, made six decades after those first outings, still portrays a great master with the determination and the means to continue to explore and to break new ground. Although the four individual co-leaders of this collaborative album, Konitz, bassist Michael Janisch, pianist Dan Tepfer and drummer Jeff Williams, have a web of cross-connections going back in some cases several decades, this is their first appearance on the same stage as a quartet. Konitz's recordings in London are rarities; just a handful of dates from the 1970s and 1980s exist along with a recent date with the great bassist Peter Ind. It is also a very rare outing for Lee Konitz on soprano saxophone, which he plays on three tracks here.
Aged 82 at the time this recording was made, Lee Konitz had deepened and pushed further his highly original way of improvising. The repertoire is ostensibly of well known standards, known to the players, but they serve as a jumping-off point for the quartet to head off in any direction. The whole context is one of spontaneity and immediacy. As the First Meeting sleeve-note says. "There was no rehearsal, plan or preconceived idea of the music's end result."
The music on this album is extracted from six hours of music recorded over two nights in May, 2010. Under Mr. Konitz's instruction, anyone could start playing a melody and the rest of the band could join in, or not. As a result, First Meeting features some stellar solo intros alongside duo, trio and of course full quartet performances. This first volume also captures the more concise statements that were recorded, where tunes were started and finished. The quartet also explored some freer and more exploratory paths, and these selections will form a subsequent album.
The sessions were instigated by US-born, London-based Michael Janisch, the bassist who had made his home in the UK in early 2005. Michael got to know Konitz when performing together at the Glasgow Jazz Festival in 2008. That first, successful meeting led to the invitation for these sessions two years later. Janisch had a monthly residency at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, London, which ran from Sept 2009 until Nov 2011. In retrospect, Janisch describes these sessions as a pinnacle of that residency. In his own words: "Lee said to us before the show, 'I dont want to talk a set list through, and make sure you don't play the way you normally play, just keep those ears open to anything.' When I listen to the music we recorded I hear a lot of peaks and valleys. At times we are very connected and its really buzzing. Other times we're checking each other out, sitting back and allowing the music to simmer a little, to see what happens, and sometimes I can tell we didn't even know what was next. And it is in those moments where Lee tends be decisive, to shine. The songs were just vehicles for on the spot improvisation."
A week before the recording, Konitz gave me an interview looking forward to the sessions, and to playing with these younger musicians. He was in a benign mood: "I don't wear my heart on my sleeve. But emotion is the main point. What it's all for is to make an emotional contact. When I'm playing, when I 'm listening to myself, that's always what I'm listening out for, and hearing. The more notes you play, the less attention you can pay to each one. So I tend to put more faith in single notes. Held notes. I'm lucky I can still play. I'm enjoying it more than ever."
The Blue Moment (Album of the Year list)
★★★★ The Guardian
"This is a live recording that captures the essence of improvisational musical dialogue. Half the fun is guessing the response to various musical gambits and where the conversation will lead next."
★★★★ DownBeat Magazine (Album of the Year list)
“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.”
"This is a collaborative success, but the presence of Konitz will be the main attraction for many listeners, and he makes all the difference to this wonderful album. His mode of expression is remarkably resistant to the passing of the years, and more importantly, no-one in the world sounds remotely like him."
"This is the sound of four musicians at the top of their game. Don’t be fooled by the choices of material, this is far more than a routine standards session. There’s a genuine sense of adventure about this music with some of the pieces being altered almost beyond recognition – but in a good way. Individual and collaborative highlights abound with the audiences at the Pizza Express being treated to something out of the ordinary."
★★★★ The Jazz Mann
"The dimensions to his [Konitz's] lyricism continue to become increasingly nuanced and expressive. The set of standards is comprised of your usual suspects, but the unpredictability the quartet lends them in the live setting gives old songs a fresh breath of air."
"How exciting the 82 year old Konitz sounds in the open context of standard playing; a melody fragment here, a short sketch there, and then a rich rhythmic phrase... He's forever and ingeniously taking risks. Great!"
"It's a superb band, one of the finest Konitz has been involved with in recent decades - I say "involved with" rather than "led", because he doesn't relish the role of bandleader, and this band is presented as a collective."
★★★★ Jazz Journal
"A series of stimulating duos, trios and quartet."
The Northern Echo
“What the indestructible Lee Konitz - who played in the late 1940s with Miles Davis - elicits here with his saxophones is incredible… Jeff Williams (drums), Michael Janisch (bass) and Dan Tepfer (piano) create a fine foundation for the so intense and always refreshingly unassuming excursions of the aged master.”
“The 82-year-old jazz legend Lee Konitz’s playing still has its appeal, no question.”
“Konitz is exceptionally influential, and on First Meeting he still portrays himself as a master with all the intensity and determination to continue to explore and conquer new ground in jazz.”
Rhein Main Magazine
“The results are moments of close connection; the master Konitz displaying the art of improvisation.”
Sound & Image
“At the age of 82 years, Konitz displays his highly original type of improvisation and proves it has deepened and developed over the years.”
“An album full of freshness & vitality… The four musicians act quite obviously on the same wavelength and exhibit both musicality and technically to the highest standards… Inspired music and an exciting listening experience.”
Musik an sich
London has become the epicentre of a new wave of jazz and jazz related sounds, and amongst the scene there is a deep pool of artists and labels who have all contributed to this shift in musical-direction. One such label is Whirlwind Recordings: a musician-owned and operated indie that has released an eclectic catalogue of over 130 albums since its inception in 2010, while garnishing a global following of fans and supporters. The label provides a platform for showcasing adventurous & visceral music that spans genres, is rooted in originality and has a key emphasis on the improvised. The artists on the label range from established masters to guiding lights of their generation to undiscovered stars in the making.
“Whirlwind Recordings gives modern jazz a fresh, new face. The label’s inspired roster of talent bridges genres, instruments and generations—a testament to founder Michael Janisch’s insight into not only where jazz has been, but where it’s headed.”