Sound-Lee! Plays the music of Lee Konitz
by Nate Dorward

Dutch pianist Guus Janssen, who has an affectionate but subversive approach to the jazz piano canon (Wilson, Tatum, Tristano and Monk are obvious reference-points), hasn't recorded all that frequently in recent years as an improvising pianist - he's also active as a "straight" composer - so it's a pleasure to receive this latest bulletin from him in his improvisor's guise.

"Plays the Music of Lee Konitz" is a live recording from Amsterdam's BIMhuis in 2001 in which Janssen's quartet mulls over half a dozen 1950s Konitz tunes, plus alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra's "Near-Lee" (based on "One-Note Samba"); some of the readings stretch to as much as twelve or thirteen minutes.

Lennie Tristano's aesthetic is given an intriguingly skewed revisiting: whereas his single-note lines took a winding, snake-charmer's course across the keyboard and his block chords fell across the keyboard like landslides, Janssen's approach recalls Monk and Mengelberg in its obstinate refusal to let go of a clutch of notes until he's dealt with it to his own satisfaction.

There's little trace of up-and-down runs in Janssen's playing, which favours instead stride-piano styles that set the two hands talking back at each other; as a result there's a playful, bouncing-ball quality to his work. These mannerisms are sometimes pushed to the point of self-indulgence, and in a few spots Janssen's two-handed toying with rhythmic displacements risks losing the thread entirely (notably a confused passage on the saxophonist's re-entry in the middle of "Ablution" that might well have been edited out) - but I'd rather hear music whose risks don't always pay off than music that doesn't take any in the first place.

Dijkstra's nonchalant phrasing and tone recalls Michael Moore as much as Konitz himself, but it's Eric Dolphy who most often comes to mind here - especially his fondness for placing an absurdly sour note at the terminal point of a phrase. Indeed, one might argue that this disc inherits the legacy of Dolphy's "Last Date" (on which, lest we forget, Dolphy was partnered by Dutchmen) as much as it does the Cool School. Questions of musicial genealogy aside, it's a welcome addition to the catalogues of Janssen and Dijkstra, who demonstrate with flair that Konitz's work as a composer is in need of reassessment and exploration.

Other reviews about Sound Lee!