A mixed bag but an important set
N. Dorward | Toronto, ON Canada | 02/26/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 2-CD set is redolent of a time in the 1950s when jazz & "serious" classical music sometimes collided. This is, I suppose, "Third Stream", to use Gunther Schuller's term, though the key reference-point here is actually the Stan Kenton band, whose arranger Bill Russo contributes charts to Lee Konitz's date _An Image_. The other albums here are _Free Forms_, by the arranger Ralph Burns (best known for his work for Woody Herman, notably "Early Autumn"); _Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Giuffre_; and Jimmy Giuffre's _Piece for Clarinet and String Orchestra/Mobiles_. These are all quite different albums, so a quick rundown:_An Image_ is notable for its almost shocking spareness. It is a jazz group plus strings, but its austerity avoids the cloying sound of most jazz-with-strings projects--think Bartok instead. There are three reworked standards--"Round Midnight", "What's New" and "It Got It Bad and That Ain't Good"--and a number of Russo originals; the mood is generally dark, the tempos slow. Konitz's alto playing is some of his best of this period--as always in his career, he rises to a challenge. He's still got the pure line going that he developed under Tristano, but with a newly impassioned & dramatic delivery.The Ralph Burns session isn't of much interest--cloyingly precious dance music, mostly--but on a few tracks Lee Konitz is featured, which raises the game a lot.The meeting with Giuffre is actually the least typical date on this set, in the sense that it's the only "straightahead" jazz date. It also has a remarkable lineup: a young Bill Evans on piano, & a sax quintet of Konitz, Giuffre (on baritone), Hal McKusick, Ted Brown & Warne Marsh. There's a mix of standards (including a beautiful acapella "Darn That Dream") & some blues-oriented originals. This is a remarkable album, with some nicely adventurous arrangements by Giuffre; the album climaxes on a wonderful flagwaver, "The Song Is You". Fans of mainstream jazz will find this the section of this reissue that appeals most to them.The last session here is the most distant from "jazz" in the narrow sense--it features Giuffre and a string orchestra, no jazz rhythm section. It has two suites of compositions: the first is a fully-notated piece which is an ambitious "serious" composition again showing the influence of Bartok; the second is a series of brief clarinet improvisations against simple string backdrops (sustained chords, trills, &c). Both pieces are surprisingly effective.This album won't appeal to all tastes; those who dislike "serious" 20th-c. classical music would do well to stay away (though they would sadly miss the fine & entirely jazzy Konitz/Giuffre encounter). But it actually remains a very listenable set of performances, & like the recent (& already deleted) reissue of _The Birth of the Third Stream_ suggests that such 1950s crossover experiments deserve reconsideration. This is vital, exploratory music, & one can only fondly contemplate the days when a major record label like Verve would hire classical orchestras to permit creative musicians to do this kind of thing. -- Meanwhile Konitz has returned to this format again, in the recent disc with the Axis String Quartet. & the ideals of the Third Stream have shown unexpected staying-power, in everything from the work of Ran Blake to the calm genre-mixing of musicians like Dave Douglas and Don Byron."