Lee Konitz. London, May 2010.

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.

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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.

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