Review: Lee Konitz + Kenny Wheeler Quintet (LJF)

Dan Tepfer, Lee Konitz. Photo credit: RogerThomas 
Lee Konitz/Dan Tepfer  + Kenny Wheeler Quintet
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, Monday, 18 November 2013. Review by Peter Vacher)

Here was a game of two halves if ever there was one. Two octogenarians, the younger one clearly frail, the older evidently more spry. As it turned out, Wheeler, seated and bent, produced easily the most coherent music of the night, while Konitz, often cheerful but mostly distracted, only occasionally got going at full tilt in his duo set with the brilliant pianist Dan Tepfer.>

Kenny Wheeler. Photo credit: Roger Thomas


Kenny Wheeler spoke little allowing his front-line partner Stan Sulzmann to announce the pieces, some quite new, that the quintet was to play. At first, Wheeler’s flugel phrases were fragmentary, the chops a touch rusty but practice soon made perfect, the quintet lifting Wheeler’s spirits and ours in a lustrous set of performances. To hear pianist John Taylor in this kind of company, with bassist Chris Laurence and drummer Martin France as the perfect playmates, was a joy in itself, his solo on ‘A Simple Tune’ a model of percussive intensity and clever chording. Sulzman was at his most persuasive, his tenor sound warmer than usual as he opened up eloquently on a blues. Wheeler’s compositions are deceptive, often with a hint of melancholy (viz ‘The Long Waiting’), their melodic heft sometimes taking time to emerge.

Lee Konitz chose to play acoustically, standing at the rear of the bare stage, saying little and occasionally breaking into a kind of sotto-voce scat, at one time trading wordless syllables with Tepfer. There were moments of great beauty, hints of a hot attack and hidden allusions to familiar songs in the American’s offhand playing manner. Otherwise, he changed reeds on his alto, wandered about the stage, smiled and largely left the running to Tepfer. This young Paris-born American is clearly a consummate technician, at pains to find distinctive harmonies and clever accents in all that he played. Was there a genuine interchange between the two? Hardly. The abiding impression was of two fine artists in a rehearsal room somewhere, noodling around and looking for ways to connect. At Konitz’s suggestion, Tepfer performed his own version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, interspersed with improvised sequences. Unexpected but stunning. It was that kind of set.

2 comments:

  1. For the record, the Lee Konitz / Dan Tepfer performance at the QEH was one of the best sets I have ever seen.

    Geoff Winston

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  2. Probably the best thing I've seen since the last time I saw
    Lee Konitz, 20 years ago!

    ReplyDelete