Sound-Lee! Plays The Music of Lee Konitz

Heard: Bimhuis, Amsterdam, 23 june 2001
Andy Hamilton, JazzReview 7 sept 2001

The avant-garde side of Dutch altoist Jorrit Dijkstra was heard to fine effect on his recent Songlines album Humming, featuring his live processed saxophone with Canadian group Talking Pictures. His Sound-Lee! project at the Bimhuis might seem, in contrast, more like straight-ahead jazz. But this was no “repertory band”- Dijkstra is re-invigorating a still neglected but vital tradition in modern jazz. The phenomenal Dutch master Guus Janssen on piano meant nothing could be taken for granted, and brother Wim on drums and Raoul van der Weide on bass completed a totally empathetic line-up.

As you’d expect from the Tristano connection, Konitz’s pieces are based on the chords of standard songs. As he explained to me afterwards, Dijkstra got acquainted with them in the 80s, and the project has been on the cards for several years. The altoist admires Konitz’s intuitive approach to improvising, with its rejection of pattern-playing and licks, and that comes across in his own thoughtfull, cool style. Janssen is a great Tristano fan but they concentrated on Konitz because Tristanos compositions have been played much more often. Warne Marsh’s pieces, which are "even more bizarre sometimes" Dijkstra reckons, may be the next venture.

Mr Konitz is very fussy about the interpretation of Tristano compositions and no doubt his own too, and I hope the young altoist had learned the lines properly, though since most of these are unfamiliar I could’nt say. Certainly the interpretations were totally individual, the original standards often unrecognisable. “Strike Up The Band” came through on “Palo Alto”, and “Too Marvellous For Words” on “Sound-Lee!”, but “One Note Samba” was totally subverted by “Near-Lee”. “Ice Cream Konitz” (“Perdido”) was fast and busy. On “Subconscious Lee” (“What Is This Thing Called Love”), Konitz’s most wellknown composition, Wim Janssen’s beautifully melodic drum solo followed the theme’s contours.

Guus Janssen often picked up and toyed with Tristano mannerisms- the block-chord style, baroque contrapuntal references, and straight-eighth lines. On “Palo Alto” he delighted us with a long stride piano solo, and “Hi Beck” showed echoes of Herbie Nichols. He uses the full resources and breadth of the keyboard, with ideas exchanged between the hands; the left hand rarely just comps. Also included in the gig were a couple of Janssen’s own delightful, witty compositions, and the clarity and coherence of his lines reflect a composer’s vision. A common and totally justified reaction to Janssen’s earlier performance with the project was “I didn’t know you played jazz so well, you should do it more often”. This enthralling gig was being recorded for Netherlands radio- hopefully some enlightened record label will take an option on it.

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