Saturday, May 21, 2011

Symbiosis: Konitz, Liebman & Beirach's KnowingLee

Symbiosis is the best word to describe the musical collaboration of Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach on their new CD, called, KnowingLee (Out Note, 2011). The three musicians came together for this session in Germany last year and the result is a beautiful record that captures the exquisite tone of Konitz on alto sax, complemented by Liebman on either soprano or tenor saxophones. Beirach also performs fully relaxed on the piano in the knowledge that he can hit any key and still be in tune. This is particularly important on the gorgeous, improvised duet, "Universal Lament." Konitz, who plays soprano sax on this track, weaves through the melody like a robin in springtime, with a solid tone that emanates from his horn which is skillfully supported by Beirach.

The album features a few standards, "Alone Together," "Body and Soul" and Cole Porter's "What is This Thing Called Love." With the vast range of experience these musicians possess, not to mention the countless number of times they've played tunes like these, you wonder where the fresh ideas come from. But the music flows as each player trades licks and improvise with sensitivity.

It's their collective musical vocabulary that does it. Konitz, who is now 83 years-of-age, has played with many great American and European musicians. He first cut his teeth at an early age with Lennie Tristano, one of jazz music's legendary be-bop innovators and teachers. Beirach and Leibman also learned from Tristano while in their teens back in the late 1940s. The two also formed the under-recognized jazz band called Quest in 1981. Now 30 years later, all of that musical experience is brought to bear on KnowingLee offering their teacher the same respect they once had for Tristano.

Once members of Miles Davis ensembles, Lee Konitz (on Birth of the Cool) and Dave Leibman (the electric groups of the seventies), they give Davis's "Solar" a solid treatment because its free melody opens up many memorable musical doors for the trio. The line is so lyrical it's almost too easy for the group to play off one another. Recorded without bass and drums, I for one, didn’t miss the rhythm section. 

"Migration," featuring Konitz and Leibman on duo soprano saxes, truly brings the magic home. It's a great tune set in the middle of the album. More than just trading licks, the two sound like their having a spirited musical dialogue as each tries to complete each other's musical sentences. As Leibman states in the liner notes, "there is nothing like playing in close proximity to a heavy to really get the point."

While this record doesn't make any earth-shattering news to the jazz world, it does confirm my notion that some musicians truly get better with age. KnowingLee is a joyful album worthy of anyone's time, be they the casual jazz fan, or the curious student. It's all here: technique, tone and musical freedom. KnowingLee is a record full of spirit and fun; one of the finest of the year.

-- John Corcelli is a musician, actor, writer and theatre director.

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