Lee Konitz, Maynard Ferguson, New England Jazz Ensemble
Lee Konitz / Ohad Talmor Big Band
Saxophonist Lee Konitz turned eighty years young on October 13, and what better way to flip the bird to Father Time than by producing a year-long series of dynamic new recordings with his nonet, string project and the Ohad Talmor Big Band. If nothing else, this persuasive anthology proves that Konitz has made few concessions to growing old; in other words, he's playing about as well as ever, at a level that has earned him an honored place in the pantheon of celebrated alto saxophonists over the past half-century or more.
Konitz, whose dry, classical sound sets him immediately apart from others, has always been a master of understatement, and Talmor, who wrote all the arrangements, keeps that in mind. His charts are a natural extension of the Konitz persona, even sounding (intentionally) out of tune from time to time. They aren't, of course, nor is Konitz, even though his penchant for contrived dissonance is reminiscent of such trendsetters as pianists Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano or saxophonist Warne Marsh (and paved the way for other pioneers including saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who is applauded in a three-part medley). After opening with one of Konitz's earliest compositions, "Sound Lee, the engaging session continues with "June '05 and the aptly named "New Ballad, which sounds like no ballad I've heard recently but is nonetheless charming. The medley and five-movement "Rhythm Sweet precede the pensive finale, "Relative Major.
Talmor's band is actually Portugal's Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, but that's beside the point. What is paramount is Konitz's unflagging resourcefulness, not to mention his remarkable endurance (he's in the forefront most of the way on an album whose playing time is more than an hour). His singular voice and superior artistry raise Portology above the commonplace and make it well worth hearing.
The Lost Tapes
Sleepy Night Records
After leaving the U.S. in 1967 to spend a year in India, Maynard Ferguson moved to England, where he befriended fellow trumpeter Ernie Garside, who was to become his manager and help kick-start his then-unsteady career as a big-band leader. Besides keeping the ensemble together and arranging tours and studio recordings, Garside taped many of the band's live performances, and these tapes, apparently the first in a series, have been stashed with many others in a trunk in Garside's home since the early 1970s.
Even though the sound quality is uneven, it's never less than adequate, and the tapes embody a treasure trove of historic scope for Ferguson's many fans, as none of them has ever been transferred to disc (or vinyl) before now. The sidemen are predominantly British, and there are some prominent names in the lineup including trumpeters John Donnelly and Alan Downey; saxophonists Peter King, Brian Smith, Danny Moss, Andy Macintosh and Alan Skidmore; trombonists Adrian Drover and Chris Pyne, pianist Pete Jackson and drummer Randy Jones. The exceptions are tracks 8-9 ("Fruit of the Loon, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me ), on which some of the Brits are replaced by Americans including trumpeters Stan Mark and Bob Summers, pianist Allan Zavod, bassist Rick Petrone and drummer Danny D'Imperio.
This was a time when Ferguson was moving from straight-ahead to more contemporary themes, as represented by "L-Dopa, "Watermelon Man, "Eleanor Rigby, "Loon and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down. "L-Dopa, which clocks in at more than fifteen minutes, is one of two extended works; the other is "The Italian Suite, which runs for more than seventeen minutes. Maynard is in superb form, and there are fiery statements by several others, most notably King, Johnson, baritone Bob Watson, tenors Skidmore and Gary Cox. As noted, a bounteous harvest for fans of the incomparable Maynard Ferguson.
New England Jazz Ensemble
Live! At The Pittsfield City Jazz Festival
Sea Breeze Jazz
Live! is the fourth album by the sixteen-year-old New England Jazz Ensemble, the first recorded outside a studio. They really should do this more often.