Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 4:36pm

The world of jazz is not entirely free of hissy fits and, although accounts differ, it appears that bassist Gary Peacock chose the night of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz's 76th birthday to throw one.

On October 13, 2003, Konitz and his quartet were playing at Iridium on Broadway, one of New York's major jazz clubs, although Elvis Costello has since described it as "a shoddy little New York dive".

The band that night was made up of Konitz, Peacock, guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Matt Wilson. Costello - who had featured Konitz on his then current album, North, and had collaborated with Frisell on several occasions - had been billed as a guest performer.

Peacock was having none of it. According to Costello, in his liner note for Frisell's 2009 Folk Songs compilation, "after one of the musicians felt it was beneath him to share a stage with me, I decided departure was the better part of valour". However, Costello's name had been used in publicity for the gig and fans who had come to see him perform weren't happy. "A black comedy ensued, as fist fights broke out between the members of the audience and the management, while Lee and Bill blew wild and free with little reference to the proposed set list," Costello recalled.

I remember reading that and wondering what the music sounded like. There is now an opportunity, 10 years on, to get some sort of an idea.

I don't know if that anarchic night at Iridium was recorded. If it was, as far as I know it has not been commercially released, but in August last year Konitz teamed up again with Frisell and Peacock, this time with drummer Joey Baron completing the quartet, to play The Blue Note Club in Greenwich Village under the group moniker Enfants Terribles. A recording of one of those sets has now been released on The Blue Note's Half Note record label.

"Enfants" is perhaps pushing it. Konitz, who at the end of the set signs off by saying "I'd like to thank you on behalf of my colleagues - I forget their names right now", is 85. Peacock is 77, Frisell is 61, and Baron is the baby of the band at 57. However, all are playing at the top of their game.

Konitz's CV in addition to many albums as a leader includes Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan's Birth of the Cool band, and collaborations with major jazz figures stretching from Lennie Tristano and Stan Kenton in the 1950s to Brad Mehldau in the 1990s.

Peacock is perhaps best known as the bassist in Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio with drummer Jack DeJohnette, but he has also played with Davis, Bill Evans, Albert Ayler, Jimmy Giuffre and Paul Bley, among others, as well as recording as a leader.

Frisell's blend of jazz, Americana, and world music, and his unique, recognisable sound have positioned him at the forefront of modern jazz guitar alongside Pat Metheny and John Scofield.

As Costello put it in that same liner note: "Listen to the Frisell guitar phrasing and you will often hear a familiar but charming opening statement, an unexpected hesitation, and then the proposal of an entirely improbable angle to the first thought, followed by a burst of dizzying inspiration."

Baron has recorded with John Zorn, John Abercrombie, Jim Hall, Joe Lovano and Steve Kuhn. His association with Konitz goes back to 1999, and he has worked with Frisell since 1988. When you remember that Konitz and Frisell were appearing in groups with Paul Motian, you know how good that makes him.

The performances here are free interpretations of six standards, often with little reference to the original melodies.

This is small group jazz playing at its most intimate, unmarred by the distracting background sound of irate Elvis Costello fans skirmishing with bouncers.

Meanwhile, tickets for HK$280, HK$380 and HK$480 are still available from Urbtix for tonight's performance by Hendrik Meurkens' Brazilian Fantasy Band featuring Eugene Pao and Angelita Li at Chai Wan's Youth Square Y-Theatre.

Take Three

Three noteworthy albums featuring the members of Enfants Terribles.

  • Motion (Verve, 1961): one of the great pianoless jazz trio records, made under Lee Konitz's leadership, but effectively in equal partnership with Elvin Jones - revolutionising jazz drumming at the time through his work with John Coltrane.
  • Bye Bye Blackbird (ECM, 1991): the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio pays tribute to Miles Davis, for whom all three had worked. One of the best examples of the rapport the group achieved since they first convened, more than a decade earlier. Peacock's presence is strongly felt.
  • Have a Little Faith (1993, Elektra Nonesuch): Joey Baron drums on perhaps Frisell's most fully realised album of the 1990s, an exploration of American music from Aaron Copland to Madonna, via Stephen Foster, Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters. Is it jazz? Does it matter?



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