With these big names on the cover expectations are raised, but Konitz is the only one with any really imaginative ideas, and he suffers intonation problems (i.e. staying in tune) off and on throughout. He has had this problem for some time now; when I last saw him live he knew it of course and kept adjusting his mouthpiece all evening till he finally hit the pitch on the very last number. Brad Mehldau is a fair accompanist, but his solos are full of clichés and repetitive phrases and never develop into a satisfyingly constructed solo, as opposed to sequences of technically showy meanderings. I loved Charlie Haden's work with Ornette and "Liberation music" but here it has to be said, he seems to be just cruising. Musicians with great reputations can't be expected to create improvisations of genius every night, but this was a bit of an off night. For me "What is this thing called love" is the best of a bad lot.
Lee Konitz seems to have done everything everywhichway and back for years. From swing era (Claude Thornhill Orchestra) to 'Birth of the Cool' (a short period with Miles Davis) and with Warne Marsh. Working with Lennie Tristano brought out a more exploratory side to his playing including early free form. His discography is enormous as are the variable musical settings he played in constantly searching for different ways to express himself. This trio was originally conceived as a duo with Charlie Haden, but Charlie asked Lee if he could bring in Brad Mehldau on piano as he much admired the young critically acclaimed pianist. The result was two days and two records of live performance. Six standards are on this record.
Lee is quoted as "Nothing was rehearsed or prearranged". Lee called the tunes and off they went!. There are only cursory nods to the original melodies after which improvisation and elaboration take over. Alone together, The Song is For You, Cherokee, What Is This Thing Called Love, are presented in a completely different format as is Round About Midnight after a few standard introductory bars, through to the final You Stepped Out of Dream. All well-known songs but almost unrecognisable as played with Konitz who is always prepared to take risks. Haden can follow, throw in his own ideas, often playing relatively spaced bass notes allowing Konitz to fill the gaps, effectively.
Then there is Brad Mehldau. Given his opportunity to solo he takes off in double-quick time that does not really follow the pattern that preceded it. There is no doubting his ability or virtuosity yet at other times he seems to understand Konitz and Haden and plays with a more relaxed sympathetic feeling. I do get the feeling he is like a caged tiger waiting for the opportunity to break free (hear his later solo efforts). Individuality with ensemble improvisation provides the listener with a highly recommended experience that lends itself to repeated hearings (Lee Konitz gets better each time).