Jazz CD Reviews

Dan Tepfer & Lee Konitz – Duos with Lee – Sunnyside

Duos with Lee will satisfy discerning and thoughtful listeners.

Published on March 15, 2010

Dan Tepfer & Lee Konitz – Duos with Lee – Sunnyside

Dan Tepfer & Lee Konitz – Duos with Lee – Sunnyside SSC 1219, 40:40 ***1/2:

(Lee Konitz – alto saxophone; Dan Tepfer – piano, producer)

It is beneficial to step away from a comfort zone and experience something unexpected. An example is Duos with Lee, a collaboration between alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Dan Tepfer. Tepfer and Konitz have worked together for about three years and Duos with Lee is a celebration of their likeminded mutual musicianship. Konitz was one of the most important cool jazz practitioners whose notable tone was as ubiquitous as Gerry Mulligan or Chet Baker. Tepfer is a respected keyboardist who took prizes at the 2006 Montreux Solo Jazz Piano Competition and has performed with Steve Lacy and Bob Brookmeyer.

Tepfer and Konitz initially partnered to produce a set of jazz standards and popular tunes to mirror their live presentations. But the best laid schemes can go awry. As an unplanned exercise Konitz and Tepfer decided to freely improvise a series of concise concoctions, one for every key with no constraints and no premeditation. The outcome is the 10-part suite, “Elande,” which takes up the bulk of this 40-minute excursion. The rest of the outing consists of two Tepfer originals and a translation of a popular 1920s song.

During his lengthy career Konitz has challenged himself, moving from cool jazz to classical interpretations to free jazz, searching for new and novel terrain. For the most part that is the basis that permeates these 13 pieces: Konitz brings an explorative essence to the session. Anyone anticipating a rehashing of the Birth of the Cool will be disappointed.

The “Elande” improvisations share a melodic and ruminative approach with segments that sometimes appear as stripped-down banter. Tepfer maintains a soft timbre and tender texture while Konitz utilizes a dry and sweet tonality and chooses a similar, complimentary use of space, discretion and harmonic composure. Much of the material is short and straightforward, ranging from approximately a minute to just over two minutes and differs widely in disposition, although a few have an unresolved quality. The expressive “Elande No. 10 (Free for Paree)” is the suite’s most memorable moment, a 4:21 maneuver that gradually progresses into a witty alteration of “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” which retains Hammerstein and Kern’s romantic edge but is tempered by Tepfer’s right hand glissandos.

The longest number is Tepfer’s supple profile “Merka Tikva,” a seven-minute arrangement that is the only conception with written sections. Konitz and Tepfer work through a mysterious melody that weaves and ebbs and at times evokes Erik Satie. Tepfer furnishes a Bill Evans-esque solo that reveals his sensitive touch and lyrical style. Tepfer takes front stage on his sole solo sally, the beautifully melodic ballad “No Lee,” which arose when he sat at the piano when Konitz took a break. It’s an illustration of how an impromptu creation can have the appearance of being thoroughly pre-designed. The twosome ends with a reflective adaptation of “Trees,” a 1922 hit penned by Oscar Rasbach – misspelled as Basbach in the credits – and based on Joyce Kilmer’s famous naturist poem. The Konitz/Tepfer version carries a post-modern midnight demeanor and recalls Konitz’s cool jazz period.

Duos with Lee will satisfy discerning and thoughtful listeners due to Konitz and Tepfer’s deliberate direction and the subtle but high-fidelity engineering and production that emphasizes artistry and nuance.

1. Elande No. 1 (F#)
2. Elande No. 2 (Bb)
3. Elande No. 3 (A)
4. Elande No. 4 (B)
5. Elande No. 5 (D)
6. Elande No. 6 (G#)
7. Merka Tikva
8. Elande No. 7 (F)
9. Elande No. 8 (G)
10. Elande No. 9 (E)
11. Elande No. 10 (Free for Paree)
12. No Lee
13. Trees

— Doug Simpson

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