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Art of the Instrument

On Feb. 5, at the Iron Horse, in Northampton, Massachusetts, Lee Konitz, in his trio comprised of Matt Wilson on drums and Dennis Irwin on bass, performed an extended 2 sets: two hours of beautifully basic continuity.

As the trio arrived, slowly the instruments crept up on the platform: Wilson’s drums came first-- set up to the right. Then all the speakers at the front of the stage disappeared. Then the bass arrived and was placed on the left. Even further left of the bass and a little closer to the audience, a stool was placed for Konitz on which he could perch and on which he did perch to listen to his band. The paucity of equipment augured the directness and simplicity with which Konitz and his bassist and drummer would express the music.

Konitz has been around for a long time, long enough to have become a legend. Konitz appeared on stage holding his alto as if it were a part of his body. He was humble, a little detached from the performance, but honest from the first notes he blew. His playing was melodious and moved in a line that did not reach out of context very often. He treated his alto with extreme dignity. The music that emanated oriented itself in harmonies which operated as smoothly as butter is consistent in texture; very few times did he launch into jagged, far-reaching abstractions. That fact did not deprive his performance of exploration. He toyed with the melancholy, touched the blue notes, hit the high pitches when appropriate, but, for the most part, each phrase hooked one into the next like he was knitting a chain stitch row. He blew solidly, stopped and then moved into another group of note phrases, stopped, and then started again. He sculpted his line essentially to have a perfect balance between high and low, mainly staying in the middle register of the horn. The silences or rests became bridges to open up the fullness of the music which the entire group produced.

Konitz’s support in the bass and drums was as even as his own playing. The strength of sound coming out of each instrument did not dare overcome that of any other. Irwin played the bass steadily and straightforwardly; he bowed his instrument only once. Irwin sustained not only a physical centrality but also a sonorous one, linking the alto and the drums, which permitted all three, really, to claim centrality as a unit.

The prize attraction became the drummer, Wilson. He did not waiver in pulse. His technical diversity was noticeably daunting, but he did not step out of the character that was Konitz all the way. Wilson’s solos were tight, delicate and richly variegated. He was restrained, yet, open, loose and free. His solos in the second set spoke of an extremely well-practiced artfulness. Yes, as he took off, so did I. Wilson focused on the road he was taking: the extremes stated themselves well---- at one point he had four sticks in his right hand, moving from tom-tom to cymbal. At the conclusion of his solo, of the set, Wilson was using only his hands on the skins.

The long patterns of the last number Konitz clipped into shorter and shorter ones. As resolution approached, Konitz blew only small bits of the song. T’was ‘Round Midnight. It was time for the music to end. It was time for "goin’ on & doing the next thing".

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lee Konitz Trio
  • Concert Date: 2/5/2003
  • Venue: Iron Horse
  • City State Country: Northampton, MA
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