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Monday, April 21, 2014

Two Nights at the Regattabar

Dave Douglas' Riverside, April 17, 2014

It took a bit of convincing myself to go to this show. I mean Dave Douglas, sure. Steve Swallow, a definite plus. But who are these other guys? Well, the Times speaks highly of this Chet Doxas fellow. Oh, but the group is an homage to Jimmy Giuffre? OK, let's go!

Doxas was impressive out of the box on the slow-burning intensity of "Northern Miner" and remained so throughout the set. His brother Jim also shined on drums, whether maintaining the slow Elvin groove of the opener, providing some furious duet accompaniment to the leader, or giving a boogaloo grove to tunes like "Thrush" and "Handwritten Letter", unafraid to throw out some "Bonham triplets" either. Swallow plays the sage role well, especially given his role the classic Jimmy Giuffre 3 (with pianist Paul Bley being the third) of the early sixties and their brief reunion thirty years later. (The performance by the 3 at MIT's Killian Hall in 1991 remains an all-time favorite concert of mine). Looking a bit frail at 73 (wow, so that means he was 21 at the time of those 1961 recordings!), he brought his usual melodicism to the bass parts, often being the lynchpin for the group (and playing yet another beautiful, custom designed instrument, this time a hollow-body electric 5-string bass), also taking lovey solos in Doxas' "Old Church, New Paint" and on "Devotion", a hymn by the early American composer Isaac Watts (whose biggest hit is "Joy to the World"). Douglas remains one of the finest musicians of the day, spinning off complex yet melodic lines throughout the evening.

The band were clearly enjoying themselves on stage, as was the audience. Introducing one of his compositions Chet Doxas said "Dave's gonna tear it up on this one" to which someone in the audience shouted back "I bet you are, too!" Autographing my CD after the show, Douglas enthusiastically said "thanks for coming out" to which I replied "oh, anytime".

Lee Konitz, April 5, 2014

I've been on a bit of a Lee Konitz kick the last couple of years, admiring his long career of being modern yet lyrical, harmonically complex yet not abrasive, fast yet cool. (the same is also true of Jimmy Giuffre) Having surely missed many opportunities, finally seeing him live, not knowing, with the master at 86 year old, how many more opportunities there may be, and I was hoping the show would not be defined by the master's age. (I wasn't too worried about this based on the excellent album Enfants Terribles, made at age 83 in collaboration with Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron)

I don't think it was. He showed up seeming a bit flustered, having had trouble checking in to the hotel and having the band start without him while he went off searching for a saxophone strap. At roughly half Konitz' age, I've had plenty of days like this myself, so I'm not ready to define this as a "senior moment". When he returned, he joined right in on "What is this thing called love?" ending as per usual with his own melody for these changes, "Subconscious-Lee". He then announced the set would continue in the fashion he's been following for "the last 25 years" of improvising over standard tunes, which he and his backup trio (pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist Jeremy Stratton, and George Schuller on drums) did ably. Tepfer was particularly impressive in the Bill Evans style of harmonic substitution and melodic rhythmic displacement, for which these tunes provide ample opportunity.

The point where age seemingly manifested itself was in Konitz' habit of singing lines (perfectly melodic, musical and in his own style) rather than playing them on his horn behind the other soloists or in lieu of his own solo,. At one point Tepfer (with whom Konitz obviously shares a deep rapport) joined in for an a capella duet. This never got terribly distracting (well, perhaps during Schuller's solo turn), but was more just baffling, perhaps a result a physical or aural inability to put the notes in the right place on the saxophone. I recall in Sviatoslav Richter's memoir, the great pianist spoke of sitting down to the piano sometime in his eighties and hearing other notes than he knew he was playing, his perfect pitch having shifted a couple of notes away. Perhaps something similar is happening to Konitz. There was also a moment when Konitz admitted he didn't recognize the song Tepfer was introducing was Body and Soul. But as I said, this was only mildly distracting, and much great music was made over the course of the evening. The audience was right with him though and very supportive, with Konitz honoring requests for "Just Friends" and "317 East 32nd" in kind.

The show also confirmed my belief that most groups don't need amplification to play this room, and I hope more groups follow this evening's example.

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