July 2000

Lee Konitz - Another Shade of Blue
Blue Note 7243 4 98222 2 1
Released: 2000

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]About two years ago Blue Note records released a very highly praised album called Alone Together. One of the things that garnered so much praise for the disc was who did the recording, Kurt Lundvall. If that name is not familiar to you, perhaps knowing that he works for Mark Levinson will mean something (yeah, THAT Mark Levinson) and he used some of Levinson’s Cello equipment in the process. Alone Together is one of those special recordings that proves an exception to the old audiophile rule that insists that an audiophile recording can have either good sound with only fair musicianship, or great musicianship with poor sound. Alone Together is a fabulous-sounding album with great musicians playing at the top of their games.

Now, two years later, Blue Note has released an equally impressive disc of music recorded at the same time by the same group called Another Shade Of Blue. The group includes Lee Konitz on alto sax, whose hall-of-fame credentials extend all the way back to Miles Davis’ groundbreaking Birth of the Cool sessions (I don’t have either the time or space to go into all of Konitz’s work, so if you want to know more, pick up a copy of the All Music Guide To Jazz), bassist Charlie Haden, whose credentials may not be as noteworthy, but who is nonetheless impressive, and pianist Brad Mehldau, one of the up-and-coming young lions of jazz. Together, they have given us another fine album, which contains three standards, one Konitz original and a group effort that, again, help to define what small-group jazz improvisation is all about.

This is one of those rare albums, especially for CD that literally allows you to close your eyes and imagine yourself at the recording session. Konitz is front and center, exactly where you would expect a man of his stature to be, with Mehldau behind to the left and Haden back right. You’ll get the full sense of how good this disc will be right from the opening notes. Konitz’s alto sax comes across as a round brass instrument; you can hear his breath blowing over the reed into the sax as well as the column of air emitting from the bell. Haden’s bass is full and deep, with the proper mix of plucked-string sound and wooden-cavity resonance. Mehldau’s playing receives equal treatment, his piano sounding full-bodied, and you get a clear sense of the hammers hitting the strings. This is as real-sounding as CD gets.

Another interesting choice on this album is the make-up of the group. I’ve heard trio albums made up of piano, bass and drums, or sax, bass and drums, but I haven’t heard many that use sax, bass and piano. Without the drums to provide timekeeping and rhythmic duties, these tasks fall to the bassist and pianist. Both Haden and Mehldau are up to the task, each taking their turn handling these chores while not forgetting their own musical responsibilities. You only get this kind of synergy from top-flight musicians who have spent years honing their craft, such as the three here.

In summary, Another Shade Of Blue is a superb disc, both on its own and as the follow up to Alone Together. The sound is first-rate, and the music tops the sound. I hope that sales are high enough to influence Blue Note (or someone else) to keep recording this trio, as Konitz, Haden and Mehldau seem to have just scratched the surface of what they are capable of. In the liner notes, Konitz says that he enjoys playing these old standards and that there are many, many more for him, Haden and Mehldau to explore.