Now in his 76th year, saxophonist Lee Konitz just keeps getting better and better. Far from resting on his considerable laurels, he continues to explore and examine, mining a wealth of original and standard material on Live-Lee
, a live set from 2000 that places him in the fine company of pianist Alan Broadbent.
Broadbent, a supple accompanist who has gained a broader audience through his work with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West and as musical director for Diana Krall, is the perfect foil for Konitz’s long lines and fragmented rhythmic approach. What is incredible is the musical empathy that these two players share, given that this was the first time they had played together.
Konitz has always been a remarkable player; given that he was a peer of Charlie Parker in the 1950s, it is to his credit that he is one of the few alto players from that era to emerge untouched by Parker’s style. With an alto sound that is breathy and unaffected, he is a far cry from the more muscular sound that Parker developed. Having worked in Miles Davis’ Birth of Cool Nonet, as well as Lennie Tristano’s sextet from the same period, Konitz developed into a strong proponent of the cool sound, a sound which continues to this day.
This set finds Konitz and Broadbent reinventing standards including "I’ll Remember April" and "Cherokee", alongside Konitz originals including "Keeping the News", "Gundula" and "Sequentialee", as well as the spontaneous improvisation "Ex Temp". In all cases, an element of risk-taking pervades; Broadbent chooses to use a spacious approach, leaving Konitz plenty of room to explore the meat of the material. Aside from the simpatico duet work, both artists are given plenty of solo space.
While Konitz is as consistent and alluring as always, the real surprise of the set is Broadbent; Broadbent has always been a fine pianist, but this set places him in a more experimental context, and he confidently meets the challenge head-on.
But for all its bold exploration, this is a highly listenable set. While this is more challenging than a strictly straight-ahead affair, even the more dissonant pieces like "Ex Temp" are appealing. And while there is a certain uncharacteristic darkness in the piano intro to the Robin/Rainger standard, "Easy Living", when Konitz comes in it takes on more shape as a tender ballad. And there is no lack of swing; "Sweet and Lovely" moves along with an engaging walking bass line from Broadbent.
What makes this session outstanding is the aforementioned empathy; this is no simple case of a duo where one instrument supports the other; this is a constant two-way conversation, with each player making suggestions to the other, and the other providing both response and further direction. Live-Lee
shows that Konitz, rather than settling into a comfort zone, is at the top of his creative game; and Broadbent demonstrates an even broader talent than previously known. This is creative improvisation at its best.