Live At Birdland Live
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One of the great jazz releases of the year! A quartet of master musicians and a programme of jazz classics. Live At Birdland presents the finest moments from two inspired nights at New York's legendary club, as Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian play "Lover Man", "Lullaby Of Birdland", "Solar", "I Fall In Love Too Easily", "You Stepped Out Of A Dream" and "Oleo" with freedom, tenderness, and a love of melody that only jazz's greatest improvisers can propose.
On December 9 and 10, 2009 Konitz, Mehldau, Haden and Motian came together at Birdland and launched themselves into the music without a game plan, trusting to experience and improvisational instincts to guide the way. When these musicians play these standards they make them new.
There are some historical precedents for the collaboration. Charlie Haden and Paul Motian played for a decade with Keith Jarrett, first in trio, then in the astonishing 'American quartet' (Survivors Suite, Eyes of the Heart), and they have a rhythmic understanding that is magical. Paul was also a member of Haden's Music Liberation Orchestra. Konitz and Mehldau have played often together and recorded two albums for Blue Note in the 1990s with Charlie Haden on bass - Alone Together and Another Shade of Blue. Konitz and Haden also played (briefly) together in a Paul Motian On Broadway session. But Live At Birdland trumps earlier permutations of this distinguished personnel.
All four musicians have history with ECM - Haden most recently with the best-selling Jasmine duets with Keith Jarrett. Motian has been leader on many albums, most recently the very popular Lost In A Dream. Lee Konitz last appeared on ECM on Kenny Wheeler's very popular Angel Song (1996), and Brad Mehldau contributed to Charles Lloyd's The Water Is Wide, to date the most widely-loved of Lloyd's ECM discs.
This is very much a collective album made by a group of equals. Three bona fide veterans and one younger star - Mehldau is 40, Haden 73, Motian 79. At 83, Lee Konitz is making history by continuing to explore new aspects of his playing, his phrasing ever more adventurous. Konitz played at the very first Birdland Club, in the 1940s, and has headlined at each of its subsequent NY addresses.
Personnel: Lee Konitz (alto saxophone), Brad Mehldau (piano), Charlie Haden (double-bass), Paul Motian (drums)
(4 stars) A masterly display of the art of instantaneous musical communication...a connoisseur's delight, packed with lovely details. -- The Scotsman, (Kenny Mathieson), May 30, 2011
(4 stars) Six jazz standards, all beautifully rendered, benefiting from almost 300 years-worth of musical experience. -- MOJO, (Charles Waring), July 2011
(5 stars) Captivating...Mehldau's uncanny amplification of Konitz's phrases, and his breathtaking solos are irresistible...four-way discussions that fizz with collective energy. -- The Guardian, (John Fordham), May 13, 2011
(5 stars) In these hands, jazz standards come up fresh; replenished by a flow of inexhaustible ideas. -- Manchester Evening News, (Mike Butler), May 27, 2011
(5 stars) Thought provoking interplay...'Oleo's deconstruction and sly reconstruction is testimony to these artists' collective gift. -- BBC Music Magazine, (Garry Booth), September 2011
The results are superb and often surprising...it's a remarkable set. -- Jazz Journal, (Simon Adams), August 2011
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All five of the songs are old standards, running to about ten to twelve minutes each, except for Oleo which lasts for fifteen. The playing sounds fresh and measured, and the recording itself is excellent with all the instruments sounding rich and well balanced. The audience occasionally shows enthusiastic appreciation but this never intrudes.
The album starts on a high with a richly melodic version of Lover Man, with drums and bass adding subtle rhythmic interest beneath the gentle interlocking melodies of the piano and saxophone. This technique of two instruments paring up to establish a melody while the others fall back and give them space to explore becomes something of a theme on the album. Piano and sax, piano and bass, and sax and drums, take turns establishing rich melodies together before breaking into more adventurous solo sections. Another highlight is the excellent version of I Fall in Love Too Easily, in which Haden takes a beautiful solo, playing soft melodies accompanied by gentle piano accents. The song ends with Konitz's sax floating hauntingly above arpeggiated piano parts.
This album is measured in its pace but it never drags, and fast intricate passages contrast the slower melodic sections. Though it expresses many different moods, it's overall feel is one of relaxed happiness, which is a good thing in a live jazz album.
Meldhau,as witnessed in his recent live album is a naturally gifted pianist and possitevly excells on this album,Hadens playing is as extraordinary,weaving in and out of complicated time signatures,Motian is as reliable as ever,and for me Konitz is the star of the show ,with beautifully contrlled runs on the saxophone,
A whole range of styles are played on this album.
The recording and production is superb as is the packaging.
Lee Konitz.....Alto Saxophone
Charlie Haden.....Double bass
I was most excited by the prospect of the interpretation of Miles Davis's "Solar" (originally on the Quintet's 1954 release "Walkin") and Sonny Rollins's Oleo (famously covered by Davis and Coltrane in 1956) but, despite some snap and crackle by Motian in particular, neither interpretation is entirely successful neither having the force or impact of, say, Coltrane's late period assaults on "My Favorite Things" or the melodic flow and rhythmic bounce of the originals. There has not been as much publicity and hyperbole accompanying an ECM since Haden and Jarrett's collaboration "Jasmine" released last year and I, for one, as slightly disappointed by the attention spent on jazz standards as if, by implication, the new music released on ECM, for all its interest, is somehow inferior. Indeed, those desperate to make an early claim for album of the year are best advised to look elsewhere (I suggest the Marcin Wasilewski Trio's "Faithful") but for intelligent, unobvious versions of some of the jazz canon's most famous material, "Live At Birdland" is a worthy tribute to that canon and the jazz firmament's penchant for endless evolution.
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