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Sound of Surprise by Lee Konitz

Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, the reigning king of saxophone cool, is one of the few cats of his generation that has never really stood still. Without bowing/bending to trends, Konitz has played - and excelled - in many contexts with different generations of players: jam sessions helmed by Buck Clayton, free improvisation with Derek Bailey’s Company and Jimmy Giuffre, he did a strings-laden Billie Holiday tribute album, hard-swinging bop-oriented sessions as well as completely unaccompanied recitals. He’s always remained true to his Lester Young-rooted, clean ‘n’ lean, cool as the other side of the pillow saxophone style. On Sound Of Surprise, he gets together with fellow Lennie Tristano acolyte Ted Brown (tenor), John Abercrombie (lithe electric guitar), Marc Johnson (acoustic bass) and the protean Joey Baron (drums) for a trip down the Cool Path that Tristano blazed in the 40s and 50s, with the differences being that Johnson and Baron are allowed greater flexibility and act as equal participants, and the influence of free jazz (which, incidentally, Tristano helped to pioneer). There’s a wonderfully wiry sense of "cool" at work here - there’s passion but no over-emoting, economy instead of long-windedness, a sense of cerebral reserve without being dreary, vague or academic, pensive without being self-centered. The best way to capsule-summarize this disc is "cool/free" - the language is of The Cool School (Tristano, Brubeck, et. al.) but with free syntax, the pieces herein as "loose-form" rather than "free-form." Konitz and Brown engage in contrapuntal saxitute that’s J.S. Bach-like without being obvious and are mightily possessed with a (overt and/or covert) sense of swing. Abercrombie gets in touch with his inner Jim Hall (cool, direct and rhythmical), Johnson is a cool as Konitz and gets a fat, robust Charlie Haden-like tone, except on "Friendly," where he takes a sinewy, Mingus-like solo and 'Baron' Joey is his usual keen bad self on his talking drumset - he’s both self-effacing AND dynamic. Konitz fans will no doubt have to have this - the quality of the playing is excellent and the level of inspiration of this is generally very high - and it’s not a bad place for the Konitz beginner, either.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lee Konitz
  • CD Title: Sound of Surprise
  • Genre: Cool Jazz
  • Year Released: 1999
  • Record Label: RCA Victor
  • Rating: Four Stars
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