By Alex W. Rodríguez | Published February 2020
For his latest recording, saxophonist Lee Konitz presides over a chamber ensemble of strings and woodwinds orchestrated by his longtime collaborator, Ohad Talmor. The result is a spirited collaboration brimming with joyful nostalgia that draws on choice repertoire: songbook-era standards that Konitz has a history with, even if he’d not previously recorded the tunes. The bandleader luxuriates in the lush, slow to medium-tempo interpretations that evoke the mid-century radio orchestras of his youth on numbers like “Goodbye” and “I Cover The Waterfront.” It feels as if the 92-year-old saxophonist—born not too many years after Charlie Parker—is at work evoking the ghost of Bird With Strings.
The one Konitz original, “Kary’s Trance,” brings the bandleader back to the angular, boppish grooves for which he’s best known. And on the final improvised number, simply titled “Trio Blues,” Konitz stretches out over a laid-back groove, trading occasional phrases with drummer George Schuller, while Christopher Tordini anchors the group. Indeed, Tordini’s bass is a ballast throughout, often serving as the reference point for both the impeccable ensemble arrangements and Konitz’s own melodic explorations.
Thanks to the dexterous interpretation of all involved, Konitz and Talmor have shepherded something unique into being: Old Songs New manages to shine a spotlight on Konitz’s famously personal approach to the alto saxophone while injecting his relaxed angularity with the vitality of an energized, supportive chamber orchestra.
Old Songs New: Goodbye; Foolin’ Myself; In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning; Kary’s Trance; I Cover The Waterfront; This Is Always; You Go To My Head; Trio Blues. (49:07)
Personnel: Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Ohad Talmor, tenor saxophone (5); Caroline Davis, flute, alto flute; Christof Knoche, clarinet; Dennis Lee, bass clarinet; Judith Insell, viola; Mariel Roberts, Dimos Goudaroulis, cello; Christopher Tordini, bass; George Schuller, drums.