Label: Decca Records, 2018
Personnel – Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Dan Tepfer: piano.
To celebrate a decade of intense musical collaboration and friendship, the masterful 90-year-old altoist Lee Konitz and the resourceful pianist Dan Tepfer, 36, release Decade on Verve Records, an auspicious follow up to Duos With Lee (Sunnyside, 2009). The duo has been performing extensively throughout the years, but their mature sense of impromptu comes bolstered throughout these 15 spontaneous short tunes.
In possession of an enviable originality in terms of sound and language, the pair takes the same direction and overcomes any possible generational gap with their modernistic facility. This aspect becomes immediately perceptible on “Thrill”, the illuminated, if enigmatic, opening piece, which shows Tepfer into a fantastic textural work while insisting on a specific note, chromatically bent at regular times. The delicate tension that arrives from it, favors Konitz's cliché-free vocabulary.
Comprising three distinct parts, “9/11 Suite” kicks off with introspective piano melodies entering our ears like raindrops on a breezy spring day. The melodic lyricism conducted by the veteran saxophonist frequently takes you to the unexpected. If the second part of the suite, marked by scattered call-response actions, points out to an uncertain destiny by carrying a flaring turbulence and an unregulated plasticity typical of the avant-garde genre, then the touching third part is enveloped by a sequence of high-pitched piano swirls whose dreamy tones urge the saxophone to search for a hidden secret with yearning musicality.
Three title puns, “Alter Ego”, “Egos Alter”, and “Eager Altos” feature Konitz’ overdubbed sax lines in a merry polyphony, but it’s with “Through the Tunnel”, an overwhelming piece of aurorean transcendence that the duo reaches a subliminal state of unearthly contemplation. If Konitz evokes the melody of “Peacocks” at an early stage and makes use of his unmistakable scat singing by the end, then Tepfer’s improvised lines have prompted responses from a programmed Disklavier piano. The saxophonist repeats the vocalization on Johnny Green’s “Ceaseless”, where circular and arpeggiated movements, typical from classical music, sustain his liberal yet never-misplaced ruminations.
There are other moments of extraordinary creativity: “Body and Soul” is completely transformed through a snazzy re-harmonization and entirely fresh melody; “Rebounds” claims a contrapuntal groove that is later expanded into grandiose chords; and “A Place We Know” shapes into a more traditional song format through balladic harmonic progressions flanked by profound saxophone impressions.
Wielding a delightfully quirky style, Konitz and Tepfer provide the listener with those truly magical moments that will keep them sigh with pleasure.
01 - Thrill ► 04 - 9/11 Suite Part III ► 07 - Through the Tunnel