Monday, December 14, 2009

Konitz/Mehldau/Haden/Motian: 12/10/09 @ Birdland

I often find myself on long online music hunts, searching for a perfect song, a perfect album, a perfect feel, or a perfect touch. Sometimes, hoping for all of the above, I often give up, unable to find exactly what I'm looking for. Other times - much less often than what happens above -, I find exactly what I'm looking for: an album, a song, an artist, or a collaboration so perfect and so mesmerizing that (and the only word I can truly think of to describe the feeling is) I am left hypnotized, so awestruck by what I have found, so happy that I have found it and that it exists.

Recent findings have included Red Garland's solo piano recordings, Garland's recording of "You Better Go Now," on Rojo, John Pizzarelli's, "I Wouldn't Trade You," Gene Kelly and George Gershwins original recording of "I've Got A Crush On You" (from the film "An American in Paris), and Ahmad Jamal's, "We Live In Two Different Worlds."

Maybe you see where I'm going.

The avant-garde infrequently sparks my interest.

Often, in jazz these days, to me at least, it seems that so much emphasis is made on innovation - each album is reviewed on how innovative it is, how much it has shaken everything- Siimply playing nicely on a good tune isn't so relevant, and certainly not important.

I am told often to remember that the great, innovative musicians were out there to innovate. They were purposely playing to innovate the music, to bring it forward.

A teacher of mine told me that he often goes out to the store in search of these newer, innovative, modern recordings - those that he reads in the reviews - but almost always ends up leaving the record store with another Jackie McLean album in hand because, above all, he could never cook to the new stuff.

It took me a long time to come to terms with what I truly believe: those who innovated didn't play with the intention of innovating; they played what was in their hearts. It just so happened, that in that process, they innovated.

However, when the avant-garde, or the atypical does spark my interest, it truly speaks to me very deeply, as it did the other night at Birdland.

A truly exciting lineup, I had no idea what to expect. Would Mehldau overpower the rest of the group? Would Motian's drumming get in the way of everyone else? Would Lee Konitz swing and would his tone shine? - Or would he go the "modern way", wowing the audience with his virtuostic and totally shocking, modern phrasings?

Or would it be spectacular?

I was wrong on all accounts to my first set of questions.

The show was truly spectacular. Unusual, unrehearsed, hypnotizing, and great.

Each tune was begun by one of the musicians -usually Brad or Lee. After a statement or two of the melody, the rest of the band would join in.

One of the most memorable parts of the show took place during Brad's introduction to "Falling In Love With Love." After a couple of verses, Motian joined in on drums. Just as they leaned on the dominant chord at the end of the tune - hinting to the rest of the band to come in, and making the audience feel that that was where it was going - Brad quickly realized that the band wasn't coming. He did a short cadence and the song ended, with a quick, funny ending (it was obvious that Brad was good at covering things up). Charlie mouthed to Lee, "What song was that?" Lee approached the microphone: "I almost knew that one," before asking Brad the name of the tune, unashamed, in front of the whole crowd.

The nature of the shows - totally unrehearsed and most probably un-discussed beforehand - made for all the better. The beginning of each song left everyone in the audience (and on the bandstand) in suspense. What would happen next? It was all too exciting; I couldn't look away. I couldn't close my ears.

Lee's beautiful tone always shone through - hinting equally at the tender Johnny Hodges, Paul Desmond, and Ben Webster as well as the searing, harking, yearning, cantor-like tone of Ornette Coleman.

In a conversation with friends before the show, it was decided that only Joe Lovano could make the group more powerful, more perfect.

And despite all of this, I felt a strong yearning to hear Ornette Coleman throughout the whole show - someone I rarely yearn to hear. It was during this show that I realized just how beautiful his screaching and yelling saxophone truly is.

The set list for that night, 12/10, 2nd set was:

1. All The Things You Are
2. Falling In Love With Love (a Mehldau/Motian duet)
3. Lover Man
4. Oleo
5. If I Should Lose You
6. Law Years (a Haden/Motian duet)
7. I Fall In Love Too Easily
8. The Way You Look Tonight

I usually pride myself on being some sort of traditionalist: I learn the lyrics to the songs and I try to portray those lyrics in the songs. I've never understood the extremely speedy versions of "The Way You Look Tonight." I never understood the point of taking a song (especially a beautiful standard) "out," until now.

One thing that I usually take away from "out" performances:
-The artist is faking it; as Bird said, "If you didn't live it, it won't come out of your horn." I often feel that the guy taking it "out" is not believable; he is playing someone he's not.

This show was both in and out, yet what truly made it great is that it succeeded in being both at the same time.

The interweaving, artful lines truly developed and made so famous by Konitz, Marsh, Tristano and Co. were complemented by everyone - Konitz certainly included -; with emotion - tenderness; not anger (a common emotion used in "free playing").

This balance of intellect and emotion, simultaneous tonality and atonality made this show certainly one of the most brilliant - and enjoyable - I've ever seen.

The shows were rumored to be recorded for future ECM release. Let's hope the rumors were true.


Sylvain said...

When I listen to the trio of Konitz/Mehldau/Haden (2 discs on Blue Note Records), I'm very happy and excited. This music is spectacular. Recently, I heard on NPR, the Lee Konitz Trio with Dan Tepfer and Matt Wilson. It's amazing night (you can download it from NPR at this address:

Last week ago, I read on Speakeasy JazzCorner that Meldhau/Konitz/Haden and Paul Motian played together at The Birdland and this concert will be on disc by ECM. Steve Lake confirm it. I'm very inflame of happiness. And now, I read in this blog, what happen that night with these marvelous musicians. Joe, you make my day. Thanks!

Market Rebel said...

Hi Joe,

Thank you for posting your information about the concert--I look forward to the recording as you describe the music.

However, you may want to rethink your views about free or "out" improvisation. First, I do not know who you have heard, but there is a lot of "out" playing that is very emotionally moving and often very quiet and/or dynamic. Even Ken Vandermark sometimes plays very quiet, understated, and meditative music.

For my ears, I sometimes hear insincerity in smooth jazz or even in straight-ahead when the soloist seems to "cruise" over the changes. So I guess we all have our opinions, but I strongly recommend that you listen to "out" music next time with a different set of ears. Thanks.