critic’s pick 263: konitz/frisell/peacock/baron, ‘enfants terribles’

The liner notes to Enfants Terribles states the quartet at hand is leaderless. That the recording gives equal billing to all four players seems to underscore the claim. Then as the music elegantly unfolds – an hour’s worth of well worn standards given tantalizing new life by the loose but very versed interplay  – you can’t help but buy into the record’s sense of jazz democracy.

To a degree, Enfants Terribles plays to expectation. Recorded live over two June nights in 2011 at New York’s Blue Note jazz club, the foursome quickly establishes and then deconstructs the familiar. Drummer Baron is spaciously mischievous throughout, guitar great Frisell is the picture of taste until solos that detail his wiry but conversational tone are uncorked and bassist Peacock serves as the rock, even though the revisionist intentions within the playing (impromptu as they are) never anchor the music in a set position.

But if there is a boss of this supposedly boss-less mob, it would be Lee Konitz. At age 85, his musicianship guides Enfants Terribles from atmospheric ambience to free jazz journeying to beautifully understated studies in swing. With an alto saxophone tone that is alternately vigorous and sagely, Konitz seems decisively connected to his bandmates and to the set of rediscovered staples that make up their repertoire.

The album-opening reading of What is This Thing Called Love? starts with Konitz and Baron deep in conversation, matching an alto sax bounce that flirts briefly with the tune’s familiar melody to percussive chatter that recalls the wily ingenuity of the great Paul Motian. But as soon as Frisell enters with light, scattershot runs on guitar, the tune takes on a luscious elasticity that is regularly tested by Peacock. The latter’s playing, at times, shadows Frisell but soon gathers the required steam to spar with Konitz’s animated lead.

Frisell later sets the stage for 10 gorgeous minutes of I’ll Remember April that plays tag with Konitz’s bright-eyed lyricism as Peacock and Baron percolate briskly alongside them. The resulting groove, sunny and flexible, plays off of light Caribbean-flavored runs instigated by Baron.

A sparse but beefy bass solo from Peacock bleeds into the finale of I Can’t Get Started that patiently but efficiently strolls around the tune’s lovely theme. Baron’s hushed brushed percussion, the ballet-like exchanges between Frisell and Konitz and the ultra-tasteful bass support of Peacock mingle, allowing the tune to quietly glisten. What a fitting coda for an all-star jazz summit recorded at the dawn of summer that now emits an inviting, wintry glow.

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