Monday, March 30, 2015

Concert Review: The Lee Konitz and Dave Douglas Quintet at the Jazz Standard

Lee Konitz accidentally spat on my plate of shrimp and grits at the Jazz Standard a couple weeks ago.  And I ate it.

By arriving an hour before showtime at the New York City venue last week, I secured a $35 seat at a table next to the stage during the legend's four-night stand. Sitting within a few feet of Konitz was a mixed blessing.

The saxophonist, 87, initially appeared to be in a contrary mood.  He blew a ripe raspberry after the first selection.  I saw the spray hit my plate and felt the moisture on my hands and face.

After Konitz apologized, trumpeter and bandleader Dave Douglas joked that Konitz was hitting on me. 

Douglas’ silly inference seemed to infuriate Konitz.  Rather than taking his anger out on me, Konitz cross-examined a Japanese journalist who was taking notes and photos.  Konitz’ playing and attitude warmed up as the 60-minute set progressed.  He also become increasingly assertive. 

Every solo by Douglas, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Ches Smith was transformed into a duet as Konitz added sly embellishments on saxophone or sang over each statement.

Konitz’ vocalese was unusual.  Instead of scatting or enunciating lyrics, Konitz sang wordless prayers.  His incantations felt holy. 

Konitz eventually felt lively enough to tell an unfortunate joke.

“What did Barack Obama say before he left the room?” Konitz asked.  “I’ll be white black.”

The format was far more mainstream than the exploratory sounds Douglas employed at the Blue Room in Kansas City in 2010 and 2013 and that Konitz applied to a 2006 concert with Bill Frisell at the Folly Theater.  In baring both his mind and soul on standards, Konitz offered something far more valuable than fashionable sounds.

The Konitz-enhanced meal, incidentally, was delicious.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Peter said...

Well, a retrospective bon appetit on that one. ...

You and Dave performed a great public service by getting The Great Wizard warmed up to the task, though.

One thing I'm still unsure about from your nicely wrought account though ...

How did Dave respond to the challenge of a) standards, b) Lee's minor intrusions, c) absence of dedicated spit? He can play the whole gamut of the music, in my experience.

btw: I wonder if Not-so-Palo Alto really was "infuriated", or more "doubly mortally embarrassed" and thus covering it with much active harrumphing and sharp talk of disavowal. But you were there, and will know better than this psychological speculation. :)

It sounds like you got a great ticket, notwithstanding unintended mouthful!

Cb said...

Ewwwwwwwwwww ... LOL!

Peace, Cb

Paul Kenny said...

Thanks for writing up your experience of that set. I was about 6 to 8 feet away from the spitting event, seated at the table with the Japanese journalist. I didn't get the sense that Lee was actually angry at Dave or the journalist. It seemed that he was just doing his curmudgeon shtick. And he was doing his usual fidgeting with his mouthpiece/reed (something he did very little of in the first set) for the first couple of songs.

My wife and I both thought that Dave was incredibly kind and generous to Lee that night. He and rest of the band were very comfortable with Lee's accompaniment on their solos and seemed happy to spend the night playing some beautiful standards.

I went back for the second set on Saturday and Lee had both Linda Oh and Dave singing along with him. Linda's singing on How Deep is the Ocean was really beautiful.

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks for your kind words, Peter.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I got the sense that the musicians had previously agreed to stick to Konitz's favorite standards.

None of them seemed surprised or offended by Konitz's "minor intrusions." As Paul Kenny suggested in his thoughtful comment, they "were very comfortable with Lee's accompaniment on their solos."

My favorite Konitz albums lean outwards, but once he settled in, Konitz seemed lost in a mystical reverie that would have been shattered by excessive experimentation.

Was he "mortally embarrassed" rather than "infuriated"? Perhaps.

Your report is very much appreciated, Paul Kenny.