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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Live at Birdland

ECM 273 6987



1. Lover Man
2. Lullaby of Birdland
3. Solar
4. I Fall in Love Too Easily
5. You Stepped Out of a Dream
6. Oleo

Lee Konitz - Alto sax
Brad Mehldau - Piano
Charlie Haden - Bass
Paul Motian - Drums


Some people will regard this group as an all-star line-up - and indeed that is what the publicity calls the quartet. But I have had reservations about the status of all four players here, and this disc doesn't put my misgivings to rest. They have all been praised in fulsome terms, but I think these emperors have fewer clothes than they are given credit for.

They got together for a week at New York's Birdland club in December 2009 and played without preparation or rehearsal. You might expect the CD to be very accessible, as it consists of six well-known jazz standards. Yet many of the tunes are almost unrecognisable as performed here.

This is typified right from the start, when Lee Konitz launches into Lover Man without stating the melody, which can barely be detected in his unsettling interpretation. If the sleeve notes hadn't told me it was Lover Man, I might not have guessed until after at least three minutes, when Brad Mehldau's solo gets closer to it, although Charlie Haden's bass solo confuses by veering towards Bye Bye Blackbird. The publicity says that Paul Motian's "deft brushes [are] perfectly placed", although he is only doing what thousands of drummers might do when using brushes.

Lullaby of Birdland and I Fall in Love Too Easily are easier to identify, as Brad Mehldau states their melodies. But here and throughout the album, it is hard to keep track of what is going on because the musicians take such liberties with the material. The improvisatory tradition of jazz seems to have given some jazz players the idea that they can do anyththing that they want, but this may leave the listener bewildered. On a positive note, it is not as bad aa completely free improv. At least it starts from the basis of well-known songs, even if they are often obscured by the quartet's treatment of them.

Miles Davis's Solar wanders fairly aimlessly, and Motian's drum solo is a mess. Lee Konitz actually states You Stepped Out of a Dream so that its melody is apparent, and Sonny Rollins' Oleo introduces hints of excitement but there is no sense of swing, as Haden often plays plodding two-in-a-bar bass and Motian's drumming is a meaningless mélange of cymbal taps and random beats on the snare drum and bass drum.

This album will be adored by many people who think they are "cool" but it leaves me cold.

Tony Augarde

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