Lee Konitz/Gerry Mulligan – Konitz Meets Mulligan – Pacific Jazz PJ 38/Pure Pleasure Records PPAN PJ38 – Mono 180 gram vinyl (1953), 37:45 ****½:
(Lee Konitz – alto saxophone; Gerry Mulligan – baritone saxophone; Chet Baker – trumpet; Larry Bunker – drums; Carson Smith – bass; Joe Mondragon – bass)
Lee Konitz rose to fame during the late forties and fifties, perhaps the greatest of the jazz eras. He played on the seminal Miles Davis recording, Birth of the Cool. His inspiration derived from the swing of big bands like Benny Goodman. He became a fixture with Stan Kenton and his precision approach to music. His career would be defined by duet collaborations and projects that featured his role as leader. He is still active, recording and playing live. His latter repertoire has featured more improvisational avant-garde explorations.
Gerry Mulligan is another pioneer of cool jazz. Widely considered to be the most influential baritone saxophonist in jazz history, he became known for his expertise in arrangement (Stan Kenton and Miles Davis, among many). His piano-less quartet with trumpeter Chet Baker was a defining element of jazz. A skilled pianist, his acuity for composition led him to a variety of projects. His work as a sideman is iconic, too voluminous to summarize.
Konitz Meets Mulligan is a snapshot in time of the fifties jazz scene, and the rapidly emerging West Coast movement. Re-mastered from the 1953 Pacific Jazz release (recorded at the Haig in Los Angeles), this album captures the inventive dialectic of cool jazz. At first the configuration seems like Konitz sitting in or being supported by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. After a few bars, it is apparent that this is a sublime collaboration. Twelve tightly-arranged though spontaneous tracks clock in at an unconventional time of thirty-eight minutes. Side One (studio) opens with a rousing version of “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me”. The framework for the album is developed as the horns alternate solos and counter harmonies. After a dual sax intro, Chet Baker (a promising newcomer at this point) delivers a smooth run on trumpet. “Broadway” uses a substantial amount of harmonic counterpoint as Konitz swings on alto while Baker and Mulligan weave around the melody. On the Mulligan composition, “Sextet”, Mulligan delivers an exciting solo, followed by Baker and Konitz. These players are not concerned about getting upstaged. The swing vibe energizes “Oh Lady Be Good” (done twice). Konitz, perhaps liberated from the confinement of Kenton arrangements, demonstrates his vitality and improvisational technique. A version of “Bernie’s Tune” (the minor key 32-bar gem) is more than interesting with its instrumental segues, and a nimble drum solo (Larry Bunker). The rhythm section of Bunker with Carson Smith and Joe Mondragon alternating on bass anchors the quintet with cohesive precision.
Side Two (live) features imaginative arrangements. “Too Marvelous For Words” (a Cole Porter standard) is reinvented as a bouncy late night piece. Konitz unleashes a dazzling alto solo. A change of pace inhabits “Lover Man”. With a haunting alto lead, a soulful, bluesy feel surrounds the tune. Mulligan injects a brilliant, delicate counter on baritone. The longest piece, “I’ll Remember April” (slightly over four minutes) benefits from a Latin-tinged ambiance and time changes. Konitz is incendiary on this cut and the finale, “All The Things You Are”, all the time being framed by the generous tandem of Baker and Mulligan.
The mono sound is good though not always clear (it is difficult to pick up the bass at times). But this is an impressive release, and highlights the dynamics of jazz teamwork and artistry. Pure Pleasure Analogue continues to raise the bar with the superior vinyl music format.
Side One; I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me; Broadway; Almost Like Being In Love; Sextet; Oh Lady Be Good; Bernie’s Tune; Oh Lady Be good (alternate version)
Side Two: Too Marvelous For Words; Lover Man; I’ll Remember April; There Foolish Things; All The Things You Are
— Robbie Gerson