sun 21/07/2024

Lee Konitz and Dan Tepfer, Kenny Wheeler Quintet, QEH | reviews, news & interviews

Lee Konitz and Dan Tepfer, Kenny Wheeler Quintet, QEH

Lee Konitz and Dan Tepfer, Kenny Wheeler Quintet, QEH

Two octogenarian giants of jazz give glimpses of greatness

Lee Konitz Bob Travis

Last night’s Konitz and Wheeler concert was the sort of event at which the audience’s jaw has dropped before the music starts. Lee Konitz and Kenny Wheeler already have substantial legacies: Konitz’s cool sax style was a landmark sound, for decades the only serious alternative to Parker’s bop; his huge discography, varied in style but pretty uniform in quality, is a testament to his enduring commitment to experiment.

Wheeler has always found it easier to like his writing rather than playing. His monumental ECM recordings give plenty to admire in both, though his compositions, musically so weighty yet so delicate and palatable in performance, are probably his stand-out works. Konitz is now 86, and Wheeler not far behind; neither was, obviously, at the peak of their powers, but a keenly respectful audience packed the Queen Elizabeth Hall to savour two of the last century’s greatest.

Wheeler was frail, and his playing was limited to short, but authoritative, interventions in an engaging first set. He was well supported by his band, and the scope, delicacy, and often humour, of his compositions was demonstrated repeatedly. Tongue was firmly planted-in-cheek when composing “A Simple Tune”, in which a fiendishly complicated rhythm dances through piano, bass and drums; likewise in “A Pretty Lidl Waltz”, apparently a wry take on mall culture, Wheeler led a haunting melody with elegiac dignity.

Konitz appeared, spry, witty, and eager to entertain

There was an occasional sense that the rest of the band was holding back to create space for Wheeler; but his compositions made everyone in the band work hard to create a richly layered, allusive sound, so one role can be quite easily supported. In John Taylor, Chris Laurence, Martin France and Stan Sulzmann, he has a formidable arsenal of talent, who stretched and spun his ideas like threads of gold.  

Konitz appeared, spry, witty, and eager to entertain, with his now regular accompanist Dan Tepfer, a superb improviser (despite his classical training), with acclaimed improvisations of classical pieces that are already on record. The little-accented, cool style that made Konitz’s name on Miles Davis’ 1949-50 Birth of the Cool has long ago blended with some bop and blues; age has also contracted those athletic long lines, and altogether, this has moulded his current use of spare, snatched, wistful phrases, among which Tepfer sprinkles lean harmonic stardust.

Konitz took a long time to settle onstage, and the set was often interrupted, Konitz requesting a chair, fiddling with his reed, or pacing the room like a comedian between punchlines. There was a false start, and an apparent moment of fatigue, when Tepfer played one of his Bach improvisations. Intriguingly, this has happened before. Was he creating a plausible reason for what he perceives to be a deterioration in his playing? Giving Tepfer an opportunity to vary a Goldberg theme before a prime CD-buying audience? Making a post-modern joke about improvisation and performance?

It all came together, fittingly, for “All the Things You Are”, the last piece of the night, when we could feel the decades peeling away, and hear the uniquely influential tone and phrasing of one of the great performers of all jazz.

Was Konitz making a post-modern joke about improvisation and performance?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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