Lee Konitz/Dan Tepfer/Michael Janisch/Jeff Williams, First Meeting: Live in London: Volume 1, Whirlwind Recordings ****
The ultimate in being too cool for school is, to some extent, a contradiction, and that’s becoming the school. The acme of cool is cutting it live, at any age. Fashionably late, in jazz terms if First Meeting: Live in London Volume 1 is anything to go by that’s currently clocking in at around a year as it’s that amount of time that has elapsed since the release of this album was first flagged up. It’s even longer, nearly four years now, since First Meeting was recorded over a couple of nights at Pizza Express Jazz Club, a basement supper-club venue in London’s Soho. Cool School icon Lee Konitz plays the soprano saxophone, an instrument he is not so much identified with, on a piano-less ‘All The Things You Are’, ‘Body and Soul’ (a piano/sax duo version) and ‘Alone Together’ (all four players, that’s Konitz with pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist Michael Janisch, and drummer Jeff Williams). Konitz is on the much more familiar alto on the remaining tracks: opener ‘Billie’s Bounce’, ‘Stella By Starlight’, ‘Subconscious Lee’, and ‘Outro (Sweet and Lovely)'. He isn’t on ‘Giant Steps’, which is done as a trio of the other players. So what’s it like? Obligatory quibble out of the way first: the record could do with some composer names in the credits and in the context here sleeve notes, preferably an essay from some scribe of note, to enhance the listening pleasure with a few choice words written in the right spirit. That’s made up for by its strong ‘look’, the album has a geometric-like cover design with a quirk in the typography (a bit cut out of the ‘r’ in the word ‘First’ as you can see above) and soft almost tactile velvety hues. Note the “volume 1” too in the subtitle, there were six hours of music to choose from and just over an hour of it is here. Listen to this valuable album and you’ll want more of: the weariness (‘Billie’s Bounce’); the soliloquising in the jazz soloist’s sense (Konitz’s soprano solo at the beginning of ‘All The Things You Are’); the modernism (Tepfer’s beginning to ‘Stella By Starlight’); the Monkian dimension, again Tepfer setting things up on the intro to the off kilter swing of the trio take on ‘Giant Steps’; the spontaneity (there was no rehearsal or plan); and the tenderness and quietude with Konitz’s entry on ‘Body and Soul’ just beautiful. My favourite Konitz album is Alone Together, the 1997-released set where the Chicagoan found himself playing with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden. If you, like me, appreciate that album you’ll be pleased that the Arthur Schwartz title track ‘Alone Together’ is here in a poignant 14-minute version, the quartet led off by the tasteful Janisch. The final track ‘Outro’ sends you back to the bebop of your imagination, a fade to 52nd Street.
It is not every day, every year, any year much that a singer like Patrice Quinn comes along, the Kamasi Washington vocalist, paints it raw and unselfconsciously all over with a blues cry in her voice all the time.