I saw one of the jazz greats, Lee Konitz, play in London last week. Konitz’ career spans seven decades – he was one of the players behind one of jazz’s most famous recordings, “Birth of the Cool” in 1957.
He played four shows over two nights at Pizza Express; the intimate atmosphere suited him. In a quartet with young pianist Dan Tepfer (Konitz and Tepfer have just released a CD of duos), bassist Mike Janisch and drummer Jeff Williams, Konitz stuck mainly to standards – he said – but he deconstructed and rearranged them so that they became new pieces.
Last Wednesday, his early show comprised of familiar tunes made new and viewed from a fresh perspective. There were tunes by Miles Davis (“Solar”, which Konitz said Davis appropriated from Chuck Wayne), versions of “Cherokee” and a fast “Lullaby of Birdland”, and a Monk tune; all sounded new and fresh – a hard trick for such well known repertoire. Konitz took an oblique take on each number, abstracting them in surprising and inventive ways.
The first show was so good that we took up the offer to stay for the second, which surprisingly still had seats available; apparently the others shows were all sold out. Sticking with standards – “Get Happy” and “Oleo” featured this time around – Konitz was once more oblique, making the tunes sound even more abstract. Pianist Tepfer really came into his own with some extended solos and a couple of excellent duets with Konitz. The second show was even better than the first, engaging and exciting by turns.