Alto saxophonist/composer Lee Konitz (born 1927) has been and continues to be one of THE Grand Daddies of Modern Jazz. When Ornette Coleman was still playing R&B sax in Texas, Konitz was pushing the outer limits with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh, recording what was likely the FIRST completely free group improvisation (1949, if memory serves) while many alto saxophonists of the 40s/50s were bent on sounding like Charlie Parker, Konitz had his own cool, unique sound. And while many jazzers of his generation are content to snuggle in their own comfy niche, LK has never stood still: he’s recorded in almost any context you’d care to think of, from unaccompanied sax recitals to a with-Strings tribute to Billie Holiday to Brazilian groups to (again) totally free improv with Derek Bailey’s Company.
Tonight Konitz wraps up his week-long stint at NYC’s fine jazz club/restaurant Iridium, accompanied by two of the sharpest younger players in the NY (or any other) scene: Drew Gress, acoustic bass, and Matt Wilson, drums. Both of these fellows are equally at home with both cutting-edge/tres avant jazz as well as the more straightahead bebop variety. LK led this trio in a selection of mostly standards, a couple of which he wrote (a fine "Subconscious-Lee"). While LK had a few of the briefest of faltering moments, he still possesses of the most singular sounds around on the alto: unsentimental but not un-pretty, very cerebral yet full bodied and engaging. Gress and Wilson gave fine showings, the former with a big, nimble, rippling tone and the later with thoughtful, restrained and empathetic percussion. There were 2 or 3 instances where Konitz and Wilson played brief duos it was like eavesdropping on a conversation that went from intimate to playfully boisterous. The set swung, but in a rather reserved fashion it was like the trio was daring you to listen closer to the entire group, as opposed to the usual let-‘er-rip, hard-swingin’-the-ol’-standards game. The crowd was warmly appreciative throughout. Catch LK while you can, as he’s one of the last of the True Originals of his generation.