Lee Konitz, with Frank Wunsch – Insight (2011)

An interesting recording from a period in which Lee Konitz wasn’t always all that interesting.

The saxophonist appears on these dates, recorded between 1989-94, alone and with German pianist Frank Wunsch. Konitz completists will remember his 1990 Nabel recording S’Nice with Munsch’s trio, a graceful if not all that interesting aside. Here, however, we find Konitz returning – during three of the eight tracks found on the new Jazzwerkstatt recording Insight – to the solo format that propelled him past an early-career generalization as this too-cool, too-abstract ignorer of be-bop’s passions on the brilliant 1974 recording Lone-Lee. Elsewhere, Konitz appears alongside only Wunsch, avoiding the metronomic rhythmic mishaps that marred S’Nice.

But don’t look for the percussive, almost free vibe found on that ’74 recording’s standout tracks “Cherokee” and “The Song Is You.” Instead, Konitz travels back to lyrical, chamber-influenced style for which he made his name while with Lennie Tristano in the late 1940s. Lucky for us, Konitz’s fluency, his ability to sound as once so delicate and yet so affable, remain as no small wonders.

The duo moments, of course, don’t disappoint either. Dating back to Konitz’s standout 1967 project The Lee Konitz Duets, with Joe Henderson, Jim Hall, Eddie Gomez, Elvin Jones and others – not to mention 1974’s dark and instinctive I Concentrate on You, with Red Mitchell; and 1982’s intimately explorative Toot Sweet, with Michel Petrucciani – he’s often seemed more comfortable than any other in this conversational format. Here, as on the Mitchell recording, there is an itchy harmonic tension – but also a few moments of twinkling humor.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.