Lee Konitz / Kenny Wheeler Quartet – Olden Times – Live At Birdland – Neuburg Double Moon DMCHR 71146, 78:31 ****:

Time has not diminished the astounding expressiveness of these two musical innovators.

(Lee Konitz – alto saxophone/ Kenny Wheeler – trumpet, Flugelhorn/ Frank Wunsch – piano; Gunnar Plümer – drums)

It would be futile to attempt to categorize the Lee Konitz / Kenny Wheeler Quartet re-release Olden Times. Both Konitz and Wheeler are unique players and have been associated with jazz categories as diverse as cool, post-bop, and avant-guarde. The music on this album probably fits all of these possibilities, and more.

The original release of Olden Times was originally in 2000, but for a variety of reasons never caught on with the listening public, disappeared without a trace, and rarely showed up in most discographies. This remastering has enhanced the listening experience and the music is filled with thought and vitality.

All of the tunes were written by the various band members, with Konitz and Wheeler carrying the bulk of the load. Konitz starts off the session with his own composition “Lennie’s” which begins abruptly with Konitz leaning into the number. Filled with long improvisation alto lines, it fits the inspiration of the tune, pianist Lennie Tristano. Wheeler then enters with several choruses of intense playing. The pianist is a German named Frank Wunsch who would not be well-known beyond the German border, but shows flashes of an interesting style. The piece closes out with a long section of stellar unison playing between Konitz and Wheeler.

Kenny Wheeler’s “Where Do We Go From Here?” is not a question, but rather a rapturous statement filled with insight not only from the front line but also pianist Wunsch, who is intensely centered. “Kind Folk” has a mystical quality that gives rise to some intriguing upper-register playing from Wheeler. The crafty Konitz ranges far and wide in an exploratory vein. Pianist Wunsch continues to astound with his thoughtful insight and makes one wonder why he never gained a wider audience.

The title track “Olden Times” is another Wheeler original on which he controls the composition in a solo effort that is a master class for the flugelhorn. His rumination bristles with creativity and exuberance. The final track of this session is “No Me” composed by the pianist Frank Wunsch, and was previously unreleased. The theme is established by some elaborate unison playing between Konitz and Wheeler, after which Konitz  weaves his way through a thematic voyage. Wheeler is his usual proficient self and is energetically curious. Time has not diminished the astounding expressiveness of these two musical innovators.

TrackList: Lennie’s; Where Do We Go From Here; Kind Folk; Thingin’; On Mo; Olden Times; Aldebaran; Karys’s Trance; Bo So; No Me

—Pierre Giroux