Lee Konitz is a living legend of jazz. He was one of the few alto saxophonists who found enough stylistic distinction to survive the wake of Charlie "Bird" Parker’s tidal wave of musical revolution in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Konitz survived because he created a sound just as hot as Bird’s, yet it was a different kind of heat. Rather than the red-hot visceral sound of Bird’s alto, Konitz found a niche with a cool blue flame of a straight, even toned alto sound and a certain "cerebral" restraint in his version of bop.
Konitz is also legend for his work among others, the landmark recording Birth of the Cool
with Miles Davis, his work as a sideman in Stan Kenton’s innovative big band of the early 1950’s and his own recordings as a leader with his mentor Lennie Tristano and fellow Tristano disciples tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh and guitarist Billy Bauer.
Lost Angeles based educator and arranger Mark Masters founded The American Jazz Institute dedicating it to preserving and perpetuating the jazz art form. His other projects have included work focusing on former Charles Mingus sideman Jimmy Knepper and jazz trumpet legend Clifford Brown. The Mark Masters Ensemble’s latest project One Day With Lee
is devoted to tunes written by or strongly associated with Lee Konitz. The ensemble is comprised of both top flight veteran and newer musicians from the Los Angeles jazz and studio scene, including multi woodwind instrumentalist Gary Foster, known to this listener not only through the personal experience of playing behind Foster when in college, but also through Foster’s playing with the Toshiko Akiyoshi big band and also in combo work with trumpeter Bobby Shew.
Mark Masters is a very fine arranger. He takes tunes written by Konitz and turns them into fresh innovative works of art. Each arrangement is a new and unique statement drawing upon the broad tone palette of the large jazz ensemble with innovative approaches to developing melodic ideas supported with sophisticated harmonic layering and well written background material to create a wonderful weave of musical sound. The ensemble responds well to Masters’ writing with clean precise execution and never ever escapes a consistent swinging sound. Although Konitz is a featured soloist on each tune, other members of the Masters Ensemble also shine brightly as soloists. In addition to solos on other tunes, on the blues "Cork ‘n’ Bib," every member of the ensemble, with the exception of lead trumpet Scott Englebright, takes a chorus.
For fans of Lee Konitz One Day With Lee
is certainly a must have recording. It provides a late career (Konitz was 73 at the time of the recording) document that his creative forces, saxophone technique, and that sound that made him successfully stand apart from Charlie Parker are certainly still intact. For lovers of large ensemble jazz, this CD will also be a welcome to a collection of recorded jazz.