Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Lee Konitz - MOTION!

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One of my first impressions of Jazz was the sense of motion I felt while listening to the music.

This feeling of movement was enhanced when I began playing Jazz because I played it on the drums with all four limbs going at the same time, just about all the time.

No other musician experiences Jazz in quite the same way as the drummer.

I’ve been on bikes, in cars, small and large planes and helicopters, and on amusement park thrill rides – none of them compares to the feeling of motion generated by a Jazz group “in full flight” [sorry for the mixed metaphor].

One of the most jarring experiences I’ve ever had with motion in Jazz was my first listening to a 1961 Verve LP featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz with Sonny Dallas on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.

The name of the recording was – you guessed it – Motion: Lee Konitz [released on CD as Verve 314 557 107-2].

The original LP was comprised of the five [5] tunes that Lee, Sonny and Elvin recorded on August 21, 1961. The CD set is on three discs that contains this music plus a number of other tracks made around the same time with Dallas on bass and Nick Stabulas on drums that Konitz labels as “equally compelling.”

Prior to Motion: Lee Konitz, I had been accustomed to hearing Lee on recordings that featured a straight-ahead “Cool” style of Jazz. His improvisation on these recordings from the 1950s was very linear, fluid and heavily influenced by pianist Lennie Tristano’s harmonic conception of the music.

That all changed on Motion: Lee Konitz.

Here, Lee’s solos were very intense and jagged. They were made to sound even more so by his choppy phrasing which stopped and started so often that they forced the listeners’ ears to constantly move in new and different directions.

The rhythmic pulse that drummer Elvin Jones lays down behind Lee on the recording was also relatively new to me, at times, startlingly so.

With its many accented triplets and other syncopations, Elvin’s drumming interrupted the even flow of time then characteristic of most modern Jazz.

Elvin along with Tony Williams revolutionized modern Jazz drumming by altering its motion away from a linear, metronomic time. Instead of pulling the listener forward, Elvin’s drumming pushed, shoved and bounced the listener in all directions. Tony framed the music in a sense of “controlled chaos.”

Elvin and Tony gave the rhythmic prism of Jazz different angles of acceptance and, as such, changed the manner in which the listener perceived it.

As trumpeter, composer and bandleader Wynton Marsalis once remarked: “Change the rhythm and you change the music.”

Lee, Sonny and Dallas are constantly changing the rhythm on Motion: the motion is still there, but it is unsettled, jagged and implied. It seems to become multi-dimensional, almost like the sense experienced when closing one’s eyes while riding on a roller coaster.

Nat Hentoff, original liner notes to Motion: Lee Konitz further elaborate on the qualities that make the music on it so distinctive. 

“If I were given Lee Konitz's name in a word association test, my automatic corollary term would be ‘integrity.’ At thirty-four, Lee is still firmly self-contained, direct and laconic in speech, and impregnably committed to his own way of personalizing the jazz language. The winds of change that keep most of the jazz world in a perpetual state of hurricane alert (as poll winners are toppled and ‘hippies’ change their definitions of what's ‘in’) have left Konitz unruffled. He keeps deepening the direction he has chosen, works where he can providing he has complete musical freedom, and teaches one day a week. In the past few years, as ‘funky,’ ‘soulful,’ hard,’ and various forms of experimental jazz have nearly monopolized the foreground of jazz publicity, Konitz has become part of what Paul Desmond calls ‘the jazz underground.’

Yet Konitz's jazz conception is so singular and provocative that his influence is still felt, especially in Europe. Nor certainly has that influence disappeared in America. Konitz has set standards of melodic continuity and freshness of line that are respected by musicians who are otherwise widely dissimilar to him in approach; and I'm sure that as the scope of jazz improvisation continues to expand, the worth of in retrospect and he himself will again be considered an important part of the foreground of jazz explora­tion.

In this set of performances, which are among the most consistently resourceful Konitz has ever re­corded, his distinctive qualities are brought into especially clear focus. If, for one thing, jazz at its most stimulating is indeed ‘the sound of surprise,’ Lee's playing here is constantly fresh and unpre­dictable.

He avoids standardized ‘licks’ and limp cliché with persistent determination and instead constructs so personal and imaginatively flowing a series of thematic variations that the five standards he has chosen become organically revivified. Konitz goes far inside a tune, and unlike many jazzmen who skate on the chord changes or ‘wail’ on the melodic surface of a song, Konitz reshapes each piece entirely so that it emerges as a newly integrated work with permutations of form and expanded emotional connotations that are uniquely different from the results obtained by any previous jazz treatment of the piece …

Consider the command of his instrument that Konitz must have to execute the swiftly moving and subtly interrelated ideas that make each of his per­formances in this album so pregnant with invention. In addition to the remarkable clarity of Konitz's supple and ingenious lines, he also is intriguingly skillful in the molding of series of climaxes of vary­ing intensities so that a topographical musical map of each performance would show considerably more complexity and variety than is true of the majority of jazz improvisations. Underneath this multi-layered logic of ideas is a firm, complementary resilient rhythmic line that is an integral part of the total design of Konitz's structure. He does not, in short, depend on the rhythm section to swing him but instead fuses with drums and bass so that a rare feeling of tripartite unity of execution emerges from these tracks.”

To make that degree of unity possible, of course, require* particularly sensitive, listening colleagues. Francis Dominic Joseph "Sonny" Dallas has worked with, among others, Zoot Sims, Phil Woods and Gene Quill, George Wallington, Lennie Tristano and Mary Lou Williams. In these performances, he keeps the fundamental rhythm curve steady and yet pliable while blending accurately with Lee's superimpositions on that curve. Elvin Jones, now a regular member of the John Coltrane unit, is increasingly considered by most modern jazzmen to be one of the key direction setters among the more venturesome drummers. Jones' rhythmic patterns over and around the basic meter are sparer here than in his work with Coltrane, but he contributes unmistakably personal impact to the proceedings while joining with Dallas in keeping the foundation firm and provocative.

The level of invention on the five standards is so sustained that commentary on individual tracks would be, I think, superfluous. Konitz's playing, in any case, is so clear and coherently developed on its own musical terms that it presents no esoteric difficulties for even an apprentice listener The simple procedure is to keep each basic tune in mind as a counterpoise to Konitz's transmutations of its line, harmony, and overall shape — and density. For the rest, there is only the matter of opening yourself to the intense emotional content of the playing. I've long found criticisms of Konitz's "detachment" untenable, at least by my criteria of emotion. As Paul Desmond told a British interviewer, "A sound of emotionalism is easy to produce; it's too easy, and the problem is how to do it honestly." Konitz, to be sure, does not roar or holler on his horn, but he does communicate strong, concentrated emotion and it is all the more penetrating because it is so honest.”

And Lee Konitz had this to say about the music on Motion in the liner notes to the original LP:

“When asked on a radio show to comment on one of his records, Lester Young replied: ‘Sorry. Pres, I never discuss my sex life in public.’ Bless his sweet soul!

After over twenty years of playing, I find that music is like a great woman: the better you treat her, the happier she is.

There's not much for me to say about my music -I play because it's one of the few things that make sense to me.

When I left Chicago to come to New York in '48 I had been playing in my own way for a few years, but for various reasons was unable to understand what it was I had hold of. A woman can be very elusive! Then came the first recordings, the little reputation and the working all over the place and practically losing contact with my whole playing feeling.

Fortunately for me, I never really made it profes­sionally, so I've had the chance to relax and get a little insight into my life. Freud said something like it all happens in the first four years of our life and we spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what happened. I guess I've always had some kind of feel­ing to play; now I'm trying to eliminate as much as I can of what it is that prevents it from happening

I've been recording since 1949; I have always tried to improvise — lots of different settings — some things made it for me, some didn't. This particular record means something to me.

It was made one afternoon at the end of August with Elvin Jones and Sonny Dallas. This was the first time the three of us had played together: in fact,  I Remember You was the first tune of the session. We just played what would be the equivalent of a couple sets in a club and got these five tunes for the album. Elvin loves to play and gets lots of things going on and the time is always strong; he really is something else. Sonny, to me, is one of the best bass players around. So I was fortunate to have a good strong rhythm section. Playing with bass and drums gives me the most room to go in whichever direction I choose; a chordal instrument is restricting to me.

The thing that I like about this set is that everyone is trying to improvise. The music will speak for itself.” Lee Konitz

Kevin Whitehead wrote these [at times, overly dramatic] sleeve notes for the October 1997 three CD set.

“Konitz then as now may barely nod at a melody in his opening chorus; he lets you glimpse just a corner of the card. ("It infuriates me when I can't place a tune someone is playing, so I just play a little of the melody as a tipoff.") That melody becomes just one of the many jazz or pop riffs or tunes he alludes to; Alphonse Picou/every dixieland clarinetist's "High Society" solo gets friendly waves all over the place.

Konitz's quotes lack the usual self-congratulation or canned cleverness. You can hear them as meditation on the full range of materials available to mainstream jazz, from classic New Orleans to what you heard last night at the Village Gate or Carnegie Hall, to a tune Konitz heard whistled on his way to the studio. Like everything else, allusions go through the mill; he interweaves and interleaves those fragments into new formulations, then into variations on variations, free-associating or developing by design.

Konitz's timbre has always been his calling card. That pale and ghostly facade - out of tenor saxophonist Lester Young, like so many Fifties saxophone sounds - masks how much of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker's wit, harmonic trigonometry, and under-the-fingers speed inspire him. Konitz's interest in certain classical procedures, notably counterpoint, helps to clarify his commitment to order on a high level, but he has never been seduced by the classical saxophone sound. All that vibrato is not for him. A master needs his own sound.

On the surface Konitz sounds prim compared with Parker and all of the era's little wannabirds, but within narrow parameters, and in short order, he'll declaim to the seventh row, whisper to the wings, make his reed sound slobbery wet or sandpaper dry; he'll also make all of those far-flung allusions and drape his lines flawlessly over the chords, pausing in the least likely places.

Konitz's mentor, pianist Lennie Tristano, espoused the long, clear line devoid of overstated gestures; for Tristanoites a loud hit was like playing to the balcony. Konitz runs long and paces himself, avoiding road hypnosis by varying the lengths of phrases and rests, and by constantly fidgeting with timbre and dynamics. Throw in poise and lyricism and call it great saxophone playing.

Principals remember the central events differently. Sonny Dallas easily recalls this 1961 session; it's his most famous record. He says he and Konitz did three days of recording with drummer Nick Stabulas.

"Lee just called the tunes, no second takes, just blow, and that's all we did. Nick was a great drummer, but he was not really up to par on those sessions, so Lee said, let's do it over, same format.' Maybe two weeks after that, we went back in the studio for three more days with Elvin [Jones]. He asked, 'What should I do?', and Lee said, 'Whatever you want.'"

Yes, but, Lee Konitz:

"First I had asked Max Roach, who had some kind of contractual difficulty, and he recommended Elvin, whom I hadn't even thought of. I didn't think I was in his league.

"Elvin came in and did one day of recording with us. He was working with [tenor saxophonist John] Coltrane that week - I'd heard them with two basses at the Village Gate the night before - but he came in at nine a.m. like the rest of us."

Konitz's memory is spot-on there; Coltrane had just started using both Art Davis and Reggie Workman, and had begun a month at the Gate on August 8th.

"I have the greatest respect for Elvin, a real professional, a great, creative player who loves to play with and encourage people. He was a very enthusiastic participant. It was special for me because I was delighted by how well Elvin and Sonny got along. And [getting support from] a trio meant I could play longer.

"I'd wanted to do another date, but Elvin wasn't available. I think that's how I got Nick, who had played a lot with Sonny with [Lennie] Tristano."

Konitz's note to the original LP issue, when his memory was fresh, says that it was all recorded on one late August afternoon. He and Dallas agree that Jones is the drummer on all eight previously released pieces.

The session ledgers say that there were three days of recording, scattered over two weeks.

Jones could not be reached to scan his memory: on the road, in motion. He was busy in August 1961, too. The Motion sessions came during the pressure-cooker season when Coltrane's quartet and quintet really came into their own, shortly after Ole Coltrane (Atlantic) and Africa/Brass (Impulse) and before their well-documented November stand at the Village Vanguard.

Jones's Coltrane days are celebrated for his polyrhythmic problem-solving. Less frequently remarked upon is how the ramshackle gait of four loosely independent limbs makes for disarmingly relaxed swing. With all of that business to attend to, the Detroit-weaned drummer can hang way behind the beat as do good Midwesterners from Chicago or Kansas City. As anyone who remembers Jones as the drum-soloing gunslinger in the 1971 hippie western Zachariah knows, the hot drummer could be the apex of cool. He was arranger Gil Evans's drummer of choice, having made Out of the Cool (Impulse) earlier in '61.

Jones's billowy expansiveness with Coltrane is far from his minimalist Motion. Even a roll here is too showy. His stock of self-effacing gestures is the stuff of amateurs sitting in: murmuring snare and the occasional, subtle bass-drum bomb or crash-cymbal crash. (The latter, like all cymbal sounds, discreetly tucked behind the steady ride cymbal ching).                                                             

Motion's single-mindedness, its clarity, owes much to Jones's seemingly unswerving trajectory; but the surface is deceptive. You have to focus on him to hear how much he's playing, quietly, quietly. On I Remember You, for one, notice the patterns of cross-rhythms under and inside the ride cymbal, played double time but still somehow nonchalant. The Coltrane innovations swim under the calm surface. Like Konitz, he does a lot within self-assigned limits.

Sometimes, after the trio had taped masters, bass and drums laid down a shorter rhythm track in the same tempo, sans alto sax.

Konitz: "I asked for them. I presented the idea as if I [were going to] overdub pieces with the rhythm section. Actually it was a sly way to get Sonny and Elvin to play something I could play along with at home - my own, private Music Minus One experience."

A two- alto saxophone I'm Getting Sentimental Over You (slugged as "X-periment" on the log) shows how far Konitz pushed the charade. It's a curious flop. His two altos butt heads - two soloists coming up with the same ideas, sometimes as if unconsciously - more than they weave counterpoint or harmonize or otherwise come to terms. It's all wrong, but it has its own odd, sonic brilliance.

The duo tracks only help to cement Jones and Dallas's simpatico time- and space-keeping. Just the sound of them hitting it in the studio intensifies the off-and-running air of the whole show; perhaps it makes Konitz more restless to get back to work.

On the duos intended for overdubs, Jones's snare-talk either serves as booting beneath the horn (if the soloist decides to play at that moment) or perfect fill (if he decides not to). Or, Jones is keeping up a running conversation with himself, for his own amusement, even as he and Dallas run the forms.

There's nothing to say about the good time-feel between bass and drums that the music won't say better. They obviously listen to each other - yet Dallas, too, seems to occupy his own space, imperturbibly running standard changes through whatever crossfire.

Which ties in with his experience with Tristano.

Sonny Dallas was born in Pittsburgh in 1931. Like Konitz (only later) he passed through Claude Thornhill's proto-cool orchestra. By the late Fifties Dallas had played with the Phil Woods-Gene Quill alto sax tandem, with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and pianist George Wallington. He was also prowling around town in search of sessions, jamming with the then-current crop of players, including Konitz, Jones, and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh.
In 1959 Marsh coaxed Dallas into Tristano's quintet. Leery of a pianist who'd fired bassists Teddy Kotick and Paul Chambers, Dallas took the gig for one night, with an option. He stayed (and sometimes boarded) with Tristano for ten years. He is on the Tristano LP compilations Descent Into the Maelstrom (East West; US release, 1978) and Continuity (Jazz Records; a 1964 quintet date with Konitz, Marsh, and Stabulas), and the CD Note to Note (Jazz Records 1993; issued with daughter Carol Tristano's overdubbed drums).

That first night with Tristano, at Basin Street East, with the Konitz-Marsh-Stabulas quintet, Dallas didn't recognize any of the leader's titles - but Tristano told him which standards they were based on, so Dallas knew the chords. Trouble was, Tristano, Konitz, and Marsh spent so much time playing long, snaky paragraphs and trampling bar lines, and trying to trip each other up, that the only way the bassist got through it was by focusing on the underlying chords and blocking out the rest.

Just keep walking and act like everything's okay.

Dallas is a talkative, outgoing man - he lives in Shirley, Long Island now, and teaches music at two colleges - but there is some of the same aloof self-sufficiency on Motion as there was with Tristano. Dallas defines Indiana and I'll Remember April and the rest as only their chord changes and underlying form. The rest, as it is for Konitz the melodist, is impermanent, as free as talk.

The flip side of the Dallas-Jones rhythm duos for Konitz is his 1974 Lone-Lee (Steeplechase), solo-saxophone standards so orderly that you could drop in a rhythm section. In Motion, too, he has the tendency to treat an improvised statement as interior monologue, even in the midst of interplay. The invisible arrangements, nearly always the same - no theme, long alto sax solo, alto over bass solo, abrupt wrap-up - put Konitz under the interrogation lamp. "I can see that session in my mind's eye and hear it in my ear. Elvin and Sonny sounded beautiful together. I was suffering from my usual inferiority complex, wondering if I could swing through.”

If the Tristanoites were refreshingly and/or tiresomely candid about their self-doubt - see Konitz's own note - as a group they were probably no more helpless than less analytical souls. Konitz was determined to face his fears, never wandering far from the key light; he wouldn't even lay out during the bass solos, keeping up a running commentary of wrong-register bass lines, straight counterpoint, New Orleans counterpoint, section riffs, and blues obbligatos. That was something he'd been doing with Dallas on gigs.

For an unconfident man, it's a hell of a show.

"I couldn't evaluate the music at the time; I doubted myself so much [that] Creed Taylor let me out of my contract after that date. But when the record came out, I was delighted. After declaring my insecurities, I'm very happy with the way it came out overall."

The next (and, to date, only other) time he recorded with Elvin Jones - one track on Duets, a 1967 Milestone LP - Konitz was feeling more confident. He brought his tenor saxophone.”

Motion is also discussed in the interviews that Andy Hamilton conducted with Lee in his Lee Konitz Conversations on the Improvisor’s Art:

It seems like for a time in the early 1960s you kind of left music. 

No, I just didn't have any work. I had to do something else, just odd jobs around, working in a record store selling my own records sometimes, but that was just for a brief period. I never prepared myself to do other work, so I wasn't about to retire from what I could do. I felt that I needed to work more on my playing, so that I could do a better job when I was asked to play. But there just wasn't much interest in my direction, and I wasn't hustling for work.

The 1960s was probably the hardest period in your career. 

1 have that impression. And 1 think the 1970s, too. I think starting in the 1980s, with my getting older and still trying to develop my playing, more of an interest occurred. And then, more opportunities in Europe were possible.
In the beginning, people were calling me, and I thought that was the way it was going to be. Then I stopped getting the calls, and I didn't quite know what to do. I didn't seem to do the business part very well, and nobody was representing me. So I just did whatever I could, getting a few students in, or playing a wedding, or whatever I could do to earn some money. 

But you'd just made this great album Motion, you'd think there'd be some response to that.

There was, but just among the few who liked the trio. It didn't make the kind of impression that made people want to hire me.

On Motion you were partnered by Elvin Jones. On the face of it you'd seem like very different players.

Originally I had asked Max Roach to do the date, but he was under contract, and suggested Elvin. I didn't know Elvin, and thought from what I'd heard that he was a "wild man." I didn't identify with that. But Elvin is an angel! He turned out to be just a beautiful player, a beautiful man. He was working the night before |at the Village Gate| with Coltrane and two basses or whatever, playing with that kind of intensity. And he came in for the recording session at nine o'clock in the morning, and the first tune was with brushes— it was a take. It was exactly what I wanted to hear—a beautiful time-feeling. He and Sonny [Dallas] locked in immediately, and made a great response to me.

Elvin is a real musician who loves to play with people who are trying to play, whoever they are. We had different conceptions, a difference in the kind of intensity; but swinging together in our individual ways, we both tried to make music as real as we could. 

When you say he was a wild man, what do you mean? 

I mean I thought of Elvin as a very dynamic, passionate player, and a guy using hard drugs — that was his reputation. But he was beautiful in the situation with me, and I appreciated that.

As I said, a lot of people were surprised that I was able to play with Elvin, because they didn't think I could play with that kind of intensity. And I've shied away from that in many respects, because it's kind of intimidating to have someone back of you, churning up a lot of energy. You've got to match that in some way. A rhythm section will frequently play harder than you're feeling at that moment. It can stir you up to play with more energy, or run you over with theirs.

So that was special of Elvin Jones — obviously he really listens. He immediately found the right level to play at, without compromising himself. He played as intensely as the situation called for, and with complete enthusiasm. It was a great surprise, and a pleasure.

You were nervous about it. You were expecting to be overwhelmed, possibly.

Yes, I was a bit anxious. And I'm sure Elvin was, for different reasons. But I knew [bassist] Sonny Dallas, so I thought that he would be a middleman. And it worked out that way. Sonny was very strong, very musical. I think he was one of the few guys who could play with Tristano comfortably. He played pretty much all Tristano's last gigs with him, with Nick Stabulas, frequently. He played with just about everybody.He could hold his own in that company.

Yes—he was a former football player, and very strong, very streetwise. And he loved Shakespeare — at the drop of a hat, he could go into a lengthy recitation, with this Pittsburgh accent — it was priceless! He is a very special character, a very lovable guy. I'm glad he was there that day.

We also did some sessions with [drummer] Nick Stabulas, a fine player too. I enjoyed those sessions, I think there were two. Thirty-seven years later, they found that music — two more hours of playing with Nick and Sonny — and released a three-CD set.

Then I was released from my contract with Verve. That always seemed interesting to me. Norman Granz, who was responsible for my recording with Verve, was not a fan of mine, but he encouraged me, and even made me a weekly advance, because I was raising a family and could use that money. Maybe Norman was advised that I was trying, and took a chance, though his personal taste was for the older music. I always appreciated that. Then Creed Taylor took over at Verve, and he didn't need me in his roster anymore. I didn't investigate his reasons too much. It was a bit strange to drop me after making a good recording — go figure!”

Interview with Sonny Dallas

SONNY DALLAS, born Pittsburgh 1931, is a bassist, a music therapist, and educator. After moving to New York he worked with Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Evans, Jimmy Giuffre,Jim Hall, and Phil Woods, he was Tristano's regular bass player during the last decade of the pianist's playing career. Despite recent illness, he continues to play in the New York area.

I call him "Leo." We went in to the session together because at that time we were living in Lennie's house—it was a big, beautiful house; I think it's still there. Charlie Parker told Lennie that he was not happy about being imitated—and one of the first things Lennie laid on Leo was to have his own sound. But Lee could play like Bird. He lived upstairs from me [in Tristano's house I and 1 would hear him practicing Bird's solos, and it was astonishing, it was like Bird in the next room. And he could imitate Bird's sound—I don't think many people know that. He just used it as a practicing technique.

I was surprised to hear we were doing a session with Elvin Jones, because we had already done two sessions with Nick Stabulas on drums. I'd done a lot of playing with Nick, with Phil Woods and Gene Quill and everybody, but I thought thai maybe Leo didn't dig Nick as much as I did. Nick was a wonderful friend of mine, as Leo is of course. I think I misinterpreted that [that Lee didn't dig Stabulas). I played with "Philly" Joe Jones, too, and I put Nick Stabulas right on the same echelon as any of those guys — so smooth, so hip, and so cool.

I had played with Elvin before, but I don't think Lee had. Not too long ago, Lee was asked whether he was frightened going on that date with Elvin, and he said, "No, I knew Sonny Dallas was there, and he knows like five thousand songs!" Lee is like the Pope playing, with that group. He's the main man! That was his date.”

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