Lee Konitz & Red Mitchell: Just One of Those Things

Is it because Red Mitchell tuned his bass like a cello that it has this huge, elastic bouncing feel while he plays a 7-second opening romp before Lee Konitz enters? Then the bassist carries on playing the same efficient rhythmic pattern, as the altoist exposes the melody. Actually, all along the tune, Mitchell provides an original harmonic and rhythmic support, allowing his partner to explore the tune's chord changes with great freedom. Everything the alto plays is phrased in a rhythmically inventive manner, as Konitz winds his way through the harmonic pattern, creating new melodic segments every couple of seconds. This is exactly the opposite of "vertical" improvisation based on knowing all the scales and licks that can be used on each chord, but that often neglects to combine notes to tell a story.

Lee Konitz is a master of harmony, but never forgets the lessons of his idols Louis Armstrong and Lester Young, or of his master Lennie Tristano: the song comes first. Backed by such a strong musician as Mitchell, who plays few notes yet with maximum effect, making his bass sound like a low-register guitar, the altoist is ideally situated to display his art. At the time of this recording, Konitz had let various fashions like hard bop, free jazz or jazz-rock pass by without giving them a glance. Yet his own style had evolved during those decades, following nothing but its own momentum, to the point where he could now carve this little timeless gem and rejuvenate 10 other pieces from the Cole Porter songbook with stunning candor and freshness.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Richard Twardzik: Just One of Those Things

Back in 1954, pianist Richard Twardzik was an unusual artist for Pacific, Richard Bock's boutique label focusing on West Coast jazz. Twardzik was a little-known Bostonian with an avant-garde sensibility, far removed from the cool stylings of Bock's usual releases. But based on a glowing recommendation from Russ Freeman, Bock gave the go-ahead for a session featuring a pianist he had never heard. Thank goodness! This would prove to be Twardzik's only leader date in a commercial studio session - he would die from a drug overdose the following year - and the results rank among the most spectacular jazz trio work of the era. The pianist takes Cole Porter's standard at a fast clip. Although one can hear his debt to Bud Powell (and probably his close listening to Powell's veering-out-of-control February 1951 recording of this same standard), Twardzik's lines construct odd patterns across the barlines in a manner beyond Powell's typical bop semantics. No gossamer wings on this track: instead hear the teeter-totter construction at the 1:20 mark in the right hand, and another pattern to the stars, at 1:35, now in the left hand. Along the way, he tosses out Americana quotes (John Philip Sousa and Ringling Brothers), proving that jazzistas can wave the flag at any tempo. The coda lands with all of the subtlety of a hand grenade. One of those crazy things.

December 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Patricia Barber: Just One of Those Things

Patricia Barber tackles this Cole Porter standard at a rapid-fire pace, but never loses the meaning of the words even when the changes fly by like fence posts along the highway. The opening half-chorus is driven by voice and bass, but when Chris Potter enters on tenor, he takes charge of the track. His solo is a blazing patterns-from-hell workout that beats the song into total submission. By the time Barber returns, ready to paint the town, we have almost forgotten where we were. But the vocalist wisely avoids trying to match the tenorist note for note—heck, Potter sounds like he is revving up to go another 12 rounds—and instead steers the band into a comfy coda. Phew!

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Bud Powell: Just One of Those Things

Bud Powell, like most of the first generation of bop keyboardists, tended to favor bass and drum accompaniment, and rarely recorded in a solo piano setting. But Powell's February 1951 session for Norman Granz finds the pianist on his own, and the results include some of the finest playing of his career. On "Just One of Those Things," Powell has eliminated all the Tatumesque trappings and cocktail piano mannerisms that sometimes bog down his solo work. Instead, he plays with a slashing right hand supported by sporadic left-hand voicings. The sound is stark and hollow, almost as if Powell follows an imaginary bassist and drummer in his head that the rest of us are not allowed to hear. It would be easy to pick out the flaws in this performance -- Powell's execution is a little sloppy -- but the pianist's intensity and sense of urgency demand our attention. This is bop in extremis, completely purged of the slightest sentimental tendency. Even today this music presents a prickly, avant-garde exterior that has not been dulled by the passing years. This is not jazz for casual listeners. But those who want to appreciate how the modernists shook up folks back in the day may want to check out this track for a sense of the revolutions promised by the bop pioneers.

June 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Paul Motian: Just One of Those Things

When Paul Motian decided to reread the Broadway repertoire on a long-term basis, he was not driven by nostalgia. A musician like him, who has been considered a modernist over the last 50 years, had to have something new to say about these standards. Indeed, the sound of his trio with Frisell and Lovano was already that of a group of individuals with their own sense of phrasing and improvisation. Adding a second horn and a bass to this unusual trio could have transformed it into an almost “normal” quintet. But, with Konitz and Haden, it instead multiplied the possibilities of interaction between strong personalities who avoid clichés, and put their mark on a song that never sounded so young and fresh.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Louis Armstrong & Oscar Peterson: Just One of Those Things

Peterson’s fleet fingers dance through a short intro leading to Armstrong’s usual laid-back vocal. The casualness of same should not distract the listener from the acute musicality of Pops’s performance. This finesse follows through his solo turn as well. Composer Cole Porter’s importance to the jazz repertoire is borne out again in this 4+ minutes of joy.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments


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