Lee Konitz & Richie Kamuca: Tickle Toe

Lee Konitz and Richie Kamuca both sat in the sax section of the Stan Kenton Orchestra from 1953 to '54, but in the ensuring decade recorded together only once, on Kenny Burrell's 1965 Guitar Forms. Still, it's no surprise to find them playing "Tickle Toe" on a record where Konitz engages various duet partners in a broad repertoire ranging from a Louis Armstrong song to an abstract improvisation with Jim Hall. The reason it's no surprise is Kamuca's and Konitz's shared love for Lester Young. This even brings Konitz to leave his usual alto sax in order to play the tenor (for the first time on record!), as did his idol.

Two tenors blowing on a Count Basie warhorse from the good ole times when Prez and Hershel Evans or Buddy Tate were neighbors and rivals on the tenor bench? Surely this smells of chase or tenor battle. But not at all: these two heirs are like brothers, first exposing the theme in unison before indulging in a swift counterpoint. Konitz, in the right channel, has a perfectly recognizable phrasing that doesn't change much from his usual one on alto, and tends to favor high notes. Kamuca's tone is typically harsher and virile, descending more often into the low register. They intertwine their lines in a delightful, easygoing way. To make this homage complete, their parallel melodic lines meet again in a unison when they tackle, note for note, the very chorus that Prez played on "Tickle Toe" in its historic 1940 version with the Basie Band, and that Lambert, Hendricks & Ross sang in 1958, with Basie and his band again, using words penned by Jon Hendricks. Konitz and Kamuca give us a truly Prezidential tribute on their toe-tickling instrument of choice.

February 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roland Kirk: No Tonic Prez (aka No Tonic Press)

As the song's creator states, this blues-based form is an extension of a Lester Young riff that has no "tonic," or clear key resolution. Powered by the familiar rolling thunder of Elvin Jones's kit work, Kirk's tenor nimbly mixes in long notes with rapid-fire trips up and down the scales. Jaki Byard's mid-song stride-piano interlude punctuated by Kirk's whistle siren is sheer delight. Kirk returns again with a pocket solo that recalls Young, Coleman and a little bit of Parker, while sounding not firmly like anyone but himself. "No Tonic Prez" is a 4-minute gumbo that reheats vintage ingredients to create something thoroughly modern.

August 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

This is definitely a different take on Mingus's classic ode to Lester Young. After the master's somber bowed intro, the tune becomes a showcase for the two young acoustic guitarists Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine, who approach the music Gypsy-style la Django. They play fast and furious over the slow changes. Coryell appears first with a blues-tinged Gypsy solo. Catherine seems to reach a little deeper into the Django bag. Of the two, Catherine pays more attention to his surroundings. Coleman takes a nice turn to usher in a short solo from Mingus. Coryell and Catherine are then again afforded extended opportunities. This is certainly not the best version of "Pork Pie" that has come down the pike. But by including two young guitar superstars, Mingus shows that, even entering the final years of his life, he was unafraid to introduce new sounds into his music. Sure it doesn't always work. But the effort is worth listening to.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Late in life, Lester Young was asked if any of the myriad younger musicians who copied his style had ever thanked him. "No," said the tenor sax giant, "none have." Which makes this tribute all the more poignant, for no jazzman could have been less like Lester than Charles Mingus. Pres was cool, ethereal, pithy and wistful. Mingus was fiery, earthy, caustic and withering. Yet on an album paying homage to such greats as Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, Mingus also provides this gentle, loving requiem to Lester. Mingus said it for us all. Thank you, Pres.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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