London Jazz Festival – Lee Konitz New Nonet

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Lee Konitz (alto saxophone)
Ohad Talmor (tenor saxophone)
Russ Johnson (trumpet)
Jacob Garchik (trombone)
Denis Lee (bass clarinet)
Greg Heffernan (cello)
André Fernandez (guitar)
Demian Cabaud (bass)
Dan Weiss (drums)


Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 13 November, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The silvery alto of Lee Konitz has been a distinctive, original presence on the jazz scene for more than fifty years, ever since the famous “Birth of the Cool” sessions with Miles Davis and Gil Evans. Taking the Wigmore Hall platform with his latest group, Konitz wears his ‘living legend’ status lightly, trading banter with band-mates young enough to be his grandsons, but the music they play (Konitz originals for the most part) recalls the poise and elegance of the 1949 classic, discreetly updated to a contemporary sensibility.

Konitz recruited Ohad Talmor to handle arranging and band-leading duties (“This is his band really”, says Konitz, “but I’m a bit older so they used my name”) and the tenor saxophonist showed a sharp and characterful ear for sonority; the influence of Gil Evans was audible in his perfectly-weighted chords. Though the strings were discreetly amplified, the front line was heard as nature intended, bringing an extra richness and immediacy to the sound, and the ensemble was perfectly blended; the unusual line-up made for delicious tone colours, with Greg Heffernan’s cello and Denis Lee’s bass clarinet rounding out the lower register nicely, especially in Talmor‘s richly Romantic “Warmer in Heaven”.

The best thing about the arrangements was the space they gave for improvisation. Obviously Konitz was at the centre of the band, the strange grace of his melodic lines often heard unaccompanied, or better still recontextualised by the live-wire rhythm section. There were beautiful contributions too from Talmor, whose tenor sound was smooth enough to blend in duet with Konitz, and from Jakob Garchik’s full-cream trombone. The pace was raised by “Ohad”, a poly-stylistic pile-up that switched without warning from post-bop to jazz-rock, and “ChromaticLee Suite”, a varied blues composition that inspired the freest blowing of the evening.

It was clear that this international and inter-generational band enjoyed one another’s company, and their finesse and musicianship was a pleasure to hear.

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