27 April 2008


(Note: This album came out in 1999, but I just got it, so I will review it.)

One of the great pleasures of jazz is the experience of listening to a group of musicians explore a common language in a way which creates something new and unexpected; what Whitney Balliet meant when he wrote of the "sound of surprise." Lee Konitz achieves this evanescent feeling on Another Shade of Blue, his second live disc of a two-night engagement Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau. On the disc, the three tackle a trio of standards bookended by two originals, one by Konitz and another by the whole group. The live setting allows them to stretch out and explore in a way which keeps them from falling into the inevitable ruts that come with playing these tunes over the course of a career. More impressively, the trio manage to explore the deepest crevasses of these tunes without noodling or losing focus.

In the hands of professionals such as these, the tunes come alive with a sense of exploration. Konitz stretches the blues on the title track to its outer limits, playing around with harmony and phrasing to create an ambiguous feel, neither major nor minor. With Konitz and Haden laying out, Mehldau breaks out of rhythm in "Everything Happens to Me," interposing a strong left hand with sophisticated harmony that has come to be characteristic of his work. Haden anchors the band. His accompaniment on "Another Shade of Blue" is perfectly accented, neither too forceful nor too soft, giving it the feel of a heartbeat. His soloing is quite straightforward and melodic; Haden allows his inherent sense of lyricism to shine through to good effect. The trio pulls off a particularly piquant performance on "Body and Soul," no easy feat.

The absence of a drummer allows the group to play with timing and tempo in the ballads. On the blues which opens the album, the lack of a drummer allows for a subtler swing than one would expect, which was a pleasant surprise. This set may not bring the type of edge-of-your-seat excitement one might expect from such a supergroup, but Konitz, Haden, and Mehldau keep things interesting and provide a fresh, thoughtful, and fun approach to some well-worn tunes - exactly what you would have hoped for had you been at the Jazz Bakery in L.A. when Another Shade of Blue was recorded.

Track Listing: Another Shade of Blue; Everything Happens To Me; What's New?; Body and Soul; All of Us
Personnel: Konitz, alto saxophone; Brad Mehldau, piano; Charlie Haden, bass

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