Monday, September 18, 2006


Today found the HurdAudio ear hooked on this great Lee Konitz recording from March 1969: Peacemeal. Konitz has been such a consistent (and not nearly heralded enough) force on the alto and tenor saxophones and this session is nearly a perfect balance of ideas, groove, form and tight arrangements.

Sonically, the primary attraction are the short quintet arrangements of three pieces from the Bela Bartok Mikrokosmos.

Opening with "Thumb Under" (Mikrokosmos No. 90) the shifting melodic line gives way to a groove that bends slightly to the contours of the linear line and the improvisations that flow from this unusual "head." The rhythm section of Jack DeJohnette on drums with Eddie Gomez on bass provides a perfect foundation for the electric piano of Dick Katz.

"Village Joke" (Mikrokosmos No. 130) is the melodic line, and sound, that sticks with me from this set. The arrangement feels thin, artfully sequenced (if not forced) and I can't get enough of it. After stating the melodic material the ensemble vanishes to expose a sequence of unaccompanied solos by each member of the quintet. Each turns a brief exploration of the angular qualities of the source melody. There's something beautifully Bartok-ian about having the texture collapse into a single instrument or tone and it sounds even more peculiar to hear these cats swing it.

"Peasant Dance" (Mikrokosmos No. 128) is the most satisfying of the Bartok tunes. Here ideas are sequenced without transitions. There's no attempt to soften the sharp edges between ideas as the arrangement moves effortlessly between irregular patterns and straight grooves. There's a delicious clarity to the spare, unaccompanied canon between trombone and saxophone along with the thinness of the arrangement of the head. The steady groove that laid down by Gomez and DeJohnette provides the perfect foil for the Bartok-ian, angular improvisations that wash over the top.

Peacemeal also features some more traditional standards (the alternate take on "Body and Soul" is particularly good) and some originals by Lee Konitz and Dick Katz. And these do show off just how good this group was. The interplay between all five of these players along with the seemingly endless flow of great improvisations by Konitz make this listening experience rewarding from start to finish. But it's those arrangements of the Bartok tunes that expose an incredible sound from this instrumentation that seems rich with potential that remains largely unexplored.

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