Lee Konitz / Dan Tepfer - Decade

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.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Thrill ► 04 - 9/11 Suite Part III ► 07 - Through the Tunnel

Lee Konitz - Frescalalto

Lee Konitz: alto saxophone, vocals; Kenny Barron: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.


Prolific alto saxophonist and composer Lee Konitz has always fought to sound distinct from everyone else. Carefully dodging Parker’s bop clichés, he was at Miles Davis’ side for The Birth Of The Cool and recorded with the pianist Lennie Tristano, a big influence in his approach to improvisation.
Throughout his nearly 70-year career, Konitz himself has been highly influential in the way of playing of several musicians. 

Frescalalto marks his debut on Impulse Records and features the acclaimed pianist Kenny Barron, and a tight bass-drums engine composed of Peter Washington and Kenny Washington (no family ties, but natural musical rapport).
For this session, Konitz selected three originals and five standards, which were dressed with inventive new outfits. 

The adroit quartet takes the plunge with “Stella By Starlight”, a precious piece of the Great American songbook, here structured in a funny way. One at a time, each musician rambles solo throughout the 32 bars of the song focusing more or less on the main melody.
Then comes two choruses set aside to be enjoyed in trio formation (saxophone and piano). Before returning to the theme, we still have Peter’s nimble bass solo and trading eights with the drummer.

Trading eights can also be enjoyed in Konitz’s “Kary’s Trance”, a vividly harmonized number that trembles with all the enthusiasm of the post-bop from the 50’s, time when it was recorded for the first time for the album Inside Hi-Fi. The other two originals by Konitz are “Gundula”, a weeping ballad that calls for cool-tone melodic sensibility, and “Thingin”, a swinging old hit.

Not limited to the instrument that gave him prestige, the saxophonist also sings on two tracks - “Darn That Dream”, with just piano as accompaniment, and “Out of Nowhere”, delivering a vocal improvisation. Both the latter and the closing tune, “Cherokee” have the particularity of disregarding the theme's melody, gaining a larger sense of freedom in their approach. 

In “Invitation”, a typical AABA standard, Konitz kind of sticks to the same idea, opting to deliver the exact melody only in the last A of the chorus. This tune is where Barron shines the most through a masterly improvisation.

Showing a profound complicity, Konitz and his partners overcame the challenge of sounding fresh when the inspiration comes predominantly from the past. Unified in the same belief and purpose, they emphasized creativity when it comes to the standards, and displayed a perfect understanding playing the originals.

         Grade  B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Stella by Starlight ► 04 – Kary’s Trance ► 07 – Invitation