Lee Konitz, Dan Tepfer, Michael Janisch, Jeff Williams – First Meeting: Live In London Volume 1

first meeting(Whirlwind Recordings WR4638)

The sound and style of Lee Konitz is an acquired taste, and one that is not acquired by everyone. However, there is a lot more chance of acquiring it if you hear the man in person. And if you still don’t get it, then I’m sure Lee would be the first to shrug and say: “Oh well…” He’s a kind of take-it-or-leave-it guy himself.

The methodology Konitz favours these days is very simple. He, or any other member of the band, can start a tune – usually a standard, and the others can join in, or not, as they wish. All three younger players – well it doesn’t take much to be younger than the 82-year-old Lee, though Tepfer and Janisch could easily be his grandchildren – have collaborated with the saxophonist in the past, but he still presents a challenge.

Michael Janisch further expanded on Konitz’s way of working thus: “Lee said to us before the show (it’s a live one from the Pizza Express in Soho in 2010): ‘I don’t want to talk a set list through, and make sure you don’t play the way you normally play, just keep those ears open to anything’.”

So, while the (undiscussed) set list comprises tunes everyone knows, Billie’s Bounce, All The Things You Are, Stella By Starlight, Giant Steps, Body & Soul, Alone Together, Subconsious Lee and an outro of Sweet & Lovely, there is, as per Konitz’s instructions, very little you could call predictable.

Konitz plays soprano on three tracks and actually sounds sweeter on that instrument, though again, sweetness is a relative term with this man. Maybe less acerbic would be a better description. On alto he is like a lemon marinaded in vinegar. And yet absolutely compelling – the fewer notes he plays the more he tells us, and his tales are of his life in music, steeped in the history of music yet still one of the most forward-looking and adventurous improvisers around.

Stella By Starlight, with a superb intro from Tepfer and Konitz at his most wry on entry, Janisch and Williams leaving loads of space, is my favourite on the album, but the whole disc is enthralling. Was Konitz ever anything else?

The standards and free playing are never far from each other when Konitz is on the stand, and I understand a further release of music from these two nights will explore the freer end of this encounter.

  • To buy Lee Konitz et al’s First Meeting: Live In London Volume 1, go here.


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