Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh Review


BBC Review

Graceful, intelligent improvising that swings - what more could you want ?

Peter Marsh 2002

A welcome reissue for this 1955 session from Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh (on alto and tenor respectively). Both saxophonists put in time with Lennie Tristano before becoming inextricably associated with the cool school, and as such were often criticised as being over cerebral or even worse, lacking in swing (a heinous crime indeed in the eyes of the jazz police). No such complaints here, as support comes from the classic bop rhythm section of Kenny Clarke on drums and Oscar Pettiford on bass. Indeed from the opening "Topsy", a tune most associated with Count Basie, Clarke and Pettiford display an urgent, warm propulsion which they maintain throughout the session. Sal Mosca on piano and guitarist Billy Bauer (long time Konitz/Marsh associates) provide subtle, occasionally oblique counterpoint, but it's Konitz and Marsh's show.

Both saxophonists had by this time evolved highly individual vocabularies; Konitz had somehow managed to avoid the influence of Charlie Parker, and Marsh had similarly developed a distinctive voice that owed little to the prevailing tenor tradition (except maybe late Lester Young). Moreover they had built up an almost telepathic rapport; when soloing together (as on "I Can't Get Started") it becomes quickly pretty impossible to tell who's who as their lines curl and fold in on each other. Marsh sticks mostly to the upper register of his horn, making differentiation even trickier. Tristano's "Two Not One" brings out the best in the duo, it's fractured, boppish melody provoking a joyous solo from Konitz and an unusually gritty response from Marsh (one of his rare excursions to the lower frequencies).

It's fascinating to hear them dissect Parker's "Donna Lee"; Konitz resists the urge to grandstand and somehow his playing maintains its floating, aerated quality even at this high tempo; even Clarke's trademark Klook bomb drops don't faze him. Graceful, intelligent improvising that swings - what more could you want ? Highly recommended.

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