Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre

COMPOSERS: Lee Konitz/Jimmy Giuffre
LABELS: Verve
PERFORMER: Lee Konitz (as); Jimmy Giuffre (bs, clt); with various ensembles
CATALOGUE NO: 527 780-2 (distr. Polygram)

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These two virtuoso reed players are among the most intrepid improvisers in jazz. In the Forties, Konitz was the alternative voice to Charlie Parker on alto saxophone, playing with a pure, cool sound, and he first came to prominence with the Miles Davis nine-piece band.

Giuffre played in various big bands including those of Buddy Rich and, in 1949, Woody Herman, for whom he composed and arranged the classic piece ‘Four Brothers’, which featured a saxophone section of Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Giuffre himself. He also had something of a hit in Jazz on a Summer’s Day, the film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, with his ethnic/folk piece ‘The Train and the River’.

This four-album package of recordings from the Fifties is worth buying for the first and third albums alone. The first, recorded in 1958, originally came out under the title Lee Konitz with Strings: An Image and is one of the most successful examples of that decade’s ‘third stream’ music – the attempts to fuse jazz and classical music. It features Konitz with a string quartet, guitarist Billy Bauer and unnamed bass and drums.

The results are absorbing because the string arrangements and compositions by Bill Russo are full of pith and moment, the performances are taut with drama and Konitz’s flow of invention never falters. There are some beautiful ballad performances, including Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ and Ellington’s ‘I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good’, but the main fare is two long compositions in several parts by Russo.

The third album, recorded in 1959, is Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre, and it’s a small masterpiece of pure jazz. Konitz is the main soloist on nine tracks of standards, ballads and originals, all beautifully scored by Giuffre for five saxophones plus a rhythm section of pianist Bill Evans, bassist Buddy Clark and drummer Ronnie Free. The music swings effortlessly and has the added joy of solos by Evans, the late great tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh and Giuffre himself, who plays baritone sax.

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The other two albums, composer/ arranger Ralph Burns’s Free Forms (1951) and Jimmy Giuffre’s Piece for Clarinet and String Orchestra Mobiles (1959), have some historical interest, but are less satisfying examples of the third stream vogue. IC