PERFORMER: Lee Konitz (sax), Brad Mehldau (pno), Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums)
CATALOGUE NO: ECM 273 6987
All-star outings often descend into ‘cutting contests’ with players trying to outdo one another. That was never going to happen at Birdland when this line-up convened for two nights of thought provoking interplay. Ruminating on standards such as ‘Lover Man’ and the apt ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, these four eminent improvisers seem instead intent on enhancing one another’s contributions. Konitz, who first played Birdland in its opening year in 1949, still has the sound of surprise, switching from wispy to wailing within a phrase.
Longtime collaborators Haden and Motian transcend the role of rhythm section to tell their own subtle stories, while Mehldau alternates between precise, complex solo structures and rippling accompaniment. The group’s 15-minute take on Rollins’s ‘Oleo’ should be a set text for students studying the art of group improvisation. Its deconstruction and sly reconstruction is testimony to these artists’ collective gift. Garry Booth