Kansas City Star Review

Posted on Sun, Feb. 12, 2006

Bill Frisell’s guitar joins the Lee Konitz TrioUnion creates a memorable jazz night
By TOM FREDRICK
Special to The Star

Live performances by Lee Konitz cause a stir.

Whether helping birth the “Cool” at the Royal Roost in New York during September 1948, outdoors at the first Newport Jazz Festival in July 1954, or at any of his rare United States appearances since moving to Europe in the sixties. Saturday night in Kansas City was no exception.

Konitz’s age-defying performance on alto saxophone was one for the ages. Featuring Bill Frisell on guitar, with Rufus Reid on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, his ensemble played nine standards with true inventiveness, drawing from deep inspiration.

To begin, Konitz and Frisell flanked the others in loose semicircle on a nearly naked stage. The two seemed to unite across the way as if long lost brothers. Overall, the musical effect was hip club scene meets grand concert hall.
Each player took turns starting a song until recognized by the others, who then joined in turn with solos full of warmth and generosity. Konitz began with “Solar,” a Miles Davis composition. Frisell then launched “Days of Wine and Roses,” with Konitz intoning some soft scat-like vocals. Reid followed with “Stella by Starlight,” before Farnsworth triggered “Star Eyes.” These were not unison set efforts, but daring and dense improvised counterpoint.

After intermission, open improvisation continued in full stride, though with varied size and mix of ensemble. The result was beautiful music, though melody — even song titles and composers — were often buried beneath multiple layers of contrapuntal variation.

A Konitz and Frisell duo played two songs, the first accompanied by the audience in minutes-long hum keyed by Konitz. Reid and Farnsworth next returned to form a trio with Frisell for an all-rhythm, smooth-ride rendition of “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Konitz then replaced Frisell for a single piece before all reunited to turn back time fifty-plus years with the night’s hardest bop.

Throughout the evening, Reid’s skill and strength, marked by powerful but peaceful hands, knocked his upright bass down to size. Farnsworth played with sticks sounding softer than brushes, except rare moments when they burst into flames like tiny torches.

In jazz circles, a saxophone allows a musician a great degree of physical control over the sound coming from an instrument, a guitar relatively little. Konitz long ago absorbed Kansas City saxophone colossi Lester Young and Charlie Parker into his own autonomous voice and identity. Frisell changes the rules with ability to make his guitar live and breathe, akin to blowing a saxophone.

Spanning generations, their memorable musical union this weekend mystically defied explanation. Perhaps it stems from both musicians starting on clarinet when young. Regardless the reasons, two kindred spirits of improvisation became full brothers in jazz on a memorable night at the Folly.