Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian – Live at Birdland
(ECM 273 6987. CD Review by Chris Parker)
Recorded at New York’s Birdland in December 2009, this album was compiled from two nights’ playing by a band perfectly described by the New York Times as ‘three eminences … all of whom, one way or another, were in on the early stages of loosening up rhythm and structure in jazz’, plus ‘a great younger player’.
The preview went on to predict ‘soft anarchy, a gig without preparation or rehearsal’, and that’s exactly what’s delivered on this six-track album. Anyone who was present at Lee Konitz‘s 2006 Cheltenham Jazz Festival appearance (at which he was memorably supported by Gwilym Simcock) will already know that the octogenarian altoist has an oblique, intensely personal, sometimes downright enigmatic approach to standards, hinting at their themes and then allowing them to reappear in wisps and shards thereafter in his sinuous, absorbingly meandering solos, and this is his method here, whether he’s emoting softly through ‘Lover Man’ or providing a less structured introduction to Miles Davis’s ‘Solar’.
Pianist Brad Mehldau, taking his cue from the great man, is more discursive than is customary for him (his pleasantly convoluted contribution to George Shearing’s ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, a particular highlight), and bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, their rapport firmly established in Keith Jarrett’s US
band forty-odd years ago, drive proceedings with masterful subtlety, grace and controlled power.
New York-based jazz these days often seems to be mostly about eclecticism, crackling energy and unfussy virtuosity; for these musicians, their experience and maturity evident in everything they play, it’s all about personal (often idiosyncratic, even esoteric) expression, inventive delicacy, mutually respectful attentiveness.
The music on this record is beautiful; it's some of the best Brad I've heard, and it's genuinely inspiring to hear Konitz still surprise and delight the ears by the way he turns phrases carved out of language which he has made so established.
I just kinda wish it wasn't on ECM – the traditional ECM reverb is so over-egged it sounds ludicrous; the beauty, I think, of records like this is the intimacy and spontaneity of a club setting, so why make it sound like it's been recorded in a vaulted cathedral? I think it's a pity; none of these musicians make sounds that need that sort of treatment, and the music doesn't need to be elevated in any respect – I think it also dates it…
That said, I'd still recommend this most highly!