Lee Konitz ‘Frescalalto’ (Impulse!) 3/5

Now entering his last year as an octogenarian at eighty-nine, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz returns with a recording backed by the ever excellent Kenny Barron trio comprising double bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. While not a definitive example of the Konitz craft (his mid-1950s Atlantic albums with the likes of Warne Marsh and the verve recordings including the wonderful trio outing with Elvin Jones from 1961 are the basic starters for any jazz saxophone collection), this is still worth a listen, especially when just Konitz and Barron are left to duet. In fact the pairing goes all the way back to 1992 with the album, ‘Jazz Nocturne’, that also featured Kenny Washington.

Konitz personified the cool school approach of the 1950s, though was never a musician to be pigeon holed and capable of truly innovative playing. On this new recording, he revisits some favourite chestnuts and includes three original compositions. Of these, the uptempo swing of ‘Kary’s trance’ impresses most of all and Konitz’s trademark plaintive alto voice is wonderfully showcased here.

The only faux pas is a wordless vocal intro by the leader on the ballad, ‘Darn that dream’, that the listener could have done without, but even then the pared down piano plus saxophone outing is a treat and Barron is that most sensitive of accompanists. Otherwise, there is fine interplay between the leader and pianist in the intro to, ‘Stella by starlight’, before Peter Washington enters immediately with an emphatic bass solo. This writer warmed to the mid-tempo rendition of, ‘Invitation’, which the leader infuses with a new approach and some lovely vamping from Barron.

Tim Stenhouse