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1. What Is This Thing Called 6:04
2. Body and Soul 12:07
3. Stella by Starlight 11:01
4. I'll Remember April 10:13
5. I Remember You 11:43
6. I Cant' Get Started 9:18
Super groups are, by their very nature, either bright shining stars or catastrophic exploding supernovae. Dream team basketball lineups get beat by upstarts, and the new Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Van Damme movie is sure to be a nonstarter. The reasons for the flops are usually chemistry and vision, both essential requirements.
Same can be said for jazz groups. Listen to a longstanding unit work and its affinity is obvious. Assemble a quartet for a night, or fortnight and evidence of its chemistry (or lack of it) is apparent straightaway.
Such rapport is instantly recognizable from this live 2011 date at New York's Blue Note jazz club by the magnificent quartet of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz., guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Joey Baron. Performing without prior practice or even a songbook, each track is begun by a different player; a jazz standard is the conversation topic, and the exploration begins. Acrobatics and grandstanding are eschewed here, in favor of a quiet conversational slow-to-medium tempo.
Add these four players to the very small list of groups that can play at such a high level without constant touring. Peacock's trio with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette comes to mind, and the late Paul Motian's band with Frisell and Joe Lovano are examples of players with an instant rapport.
Baron, Konitz's drummer of choice these days, opens "I Remember You," hinting at the melody before Frisell enters to state it, then others join in for the all-too-familiar song. Konitz's tone, born from Warne Marsh and Charlie Parker, has matured and mellowed into a treasure. At 84, his presence looms large here, but then there is the unmistakable sound of Frisell, ever faithful to not only the standards, but his unique mannerisms. Baron and Peacock present themselves as more than timekeepers; ever expressive, both can carry the day. Baron's drums absolutely sing "Body And Soul," and Peacock provides a mini-clinic with "I Can't Get Started."
Konitz and company spare the fireworks here, but provide a masterpiece of a record.
Lee Konitz joined forces with Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock, and Joey Baron for a week-long booking at the Blue Note in New York City in early June 2011 (though no one was officially designated as the leader), with highlights from two nights being selected for this CD. The always-surprising alto saxophonist has worked with numerous configurations of musicians during his six-decade career, always staying fresh and avoiding predictability; this meeting finds the quartet covering six standards in an introspective yet stimulating manner. "What Is This Thing Called Love" often sounds like an exercise for jazz groups as they travel its familiar path, yet only a hint of its structure remains in this version, which deftly utilizes space and darting lines. "Body & Soul" is a bit closer to its theme, with Konitz's brilliant improvisation leading the way as Frisell provides striking backgrounds then solos with equal gusto. It's likely that Konitz has played "I'll Remember April" for most of his career, but Frisell opens it alone with a striking, deliberate solo, followed by the rest of the quartet weaving superb countermelodies around him. Baron introduces "I Remember You" on drums, keeping the audience in suspense until the group reveals it gradually in a manner more humorous than sentimental. There is never a dull moment throughout these brilliant live performances.