Online since August 2002

Still atop his game

Reviewed December 2007

By the Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor Big Band

Omnitone Records: 2007

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz could be called a musician's musician. Recording and touring since the late '40s, he is still – outside the jazz community – not a well-known name of the likes of a Miles Davis or Wynton Marsalis. Within the jazz community, however, he is considered a giant.

"Portology" is the third in a series of CDs featuring a fruitful collaboration between Konitz and saxophonist/composer/arranger Ohad Talmor. With a fifty-year plus career behind Konitz – most of it involving small-group work – "Portology" places the alto saxophonist out in front a big band. Not that he hasn't played in the format before, with Stan Kenton, and in the not-quite-a-big-band of the 1949-50 "Birth of the Cool" (Capitol Records, 1957) sessions with Miles Davis.

Konitz, though he came up in the Charlie Parker era, never even flirted with Parker's bebop style. He has been, throughout his career, an idiosyncratic improviser/player who works a sort of loopy anti-bop phraseology that seems closer to Eric Dolphy's "out there" sound, in a more restrained, gentle, and – at this point – beatific fashion.

The three discs with Talmor – "Inventions" (Omnitone, 2006 ), "New Nonet" (Omnitone, 2006) and now "Portolgy" – suggest a Gil Evans/Miles Davis relationship between the two musicians and, indeed, Talmor's arrangements for Portugal's Orchestra Jazz de Matosinhos have an airy – although slightly skewed – Evans-esque feel to them, with lots of space for Konitz to blow his warm, woody alto tone around the orchestra's soft pastels.

The set opens with a Konitz classic, "Sound Lee." It's an inspired take on the tune, with Konitz and the band sparring, pulling the punches before Andre Fernandes offers up a guitar solo that smolders into another Konitz blow-fest full of twists and loops and turns.

All of the compositions here – except "Sound Lee" – are collaborative efforts from Konitz and Talmor: the bright, Third Stream-ish (jazz/classical mix) "June '05," the dark-tinted "New Ballad," the jagged "Ornetty" (a nod to, of course, Ornette Coleman), the pensive and melancholy "September 11th," the swaying, swinging five-part "Rhythm Sweet."

"Portology" finds Konitz – in collaboration with Talmor and the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos – at the top of his individualistic musical game, blowing free on a marvelous set.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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