Motion ((Remastered))

Motion ((Remastered))

In the vast Lee Konitz discography, it’s hard to pick just one album that stands as the ultimate. But Motion—a loose, coolly incendiary trio set from 1961 with bassist Sonny Dallas and drummer Elvin Jones—is a top candidate for the alto saxophone master’s most representative and influential statement. There’s no chordal instrument, so Konitz is able to roam with a certain abstract abandon through the harmony of these standard tunes, some of which (like the closer, “I’ll Remember April”) he’d continue playing straight through until his death in 2020 at age 92. Sonny Dallas recorded very little, so Motion is significant as one of his rare appearances. He’s muscular and unwavering on the walking tempos, as one must be when playing with Elvin Jones, who at this time was reinventing small-group jazz with John Coltrane’s historic quartet. Konitz and Coltrane were aesthetically worlds apart, but in a sense their quest to come at jazz harmony from every possible angle, reinventing the art of improvising in the process, shared something essential. Elvin, therefore, couldn’t sound more at home. The tunes’ forms and shapes are readily discernible, but the soloing is free and open-ended, headed toward some other dimension. Konitz came to prominence in the wake of bebop and Charlie Parker, and the lure of sounding just like Parker was strong for many an alto saxophonist. But like his mentor Lennie Tristano, Konitz sought to absorb bebop’s lessons while finding his own language from the start. “I Remember You,” strongly associated with Parker, leads off Motion, and we hear that distinct language right away—dry and laidback yet ceaselessly inventive, not reliant on licks or conventions. It’s there as well on “All of Me” and the Cole Porter classic “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” the longest and most exploratory cut. “Foolin’ Myself,” a less commonly played song, is taken at a tempo slower than the rest. Konitz’s frame of reference here is no doubt Lester Young, who recorded the tune with Billie Holiday and the Count Basie rhythm section (under pianist Teddy Wilson’s leadership) in 1937. Konitz was a fearless modernist, but his tastes were formed in the swing era (this was true of Parker as well), and the way he dealt with chords, time, and tone was deeply indebted to Lester and the great pre-bop soloists. “Foolin’ Myself” is one of those delicious moments when it really becomes apparent.

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