Enfants Terribles with Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron
Thursday, August 16
Better than: The terrible twos.
The word’s out in jazz about the cache of collectives with band names as opposed to ensembles named for or operated by a catalyst instrumentalist or leader. Last night, after following veteran altoist Lee Konitz onstage, the other members of the quartet Enfants Terribles tried valiantly to dispel the idea that the saxist—at 84, the eldest of the group’s elder statesmen—was running the show. The altoist himself started the gig at center stage, but seemed to think better of it after opening with a typically discursive run through “Solar”, the Chuck Wayne melody that Miles Davis’ estate holds the copyright on. Konitz then slid to the left of seated bassist (and next elder) Gary Peacock and stayed there, placing the band in a straight line that left viewers with no fixed focal point save for where each sound in the sax/guitar/bass/drum unit came from. Surveying that barren space at center stage reminded me of the stories I’d read about how the postpunk band Joy Division tried to carry on after frontman Ian Curtis’s death; none of the surviving members dared stand in the space he usually inhabited.
Though no longer in front, Konitz still seemed to be calling the shots. A different member opened each piece, but it was Konitz who looked across the stage at every break and either nodded in someone’s direction or said something like, “OK, you start one, Joey,” to drummer Joey Baron. For his part, Baron’s animated fills probably altered the music’s character the most. Everything was taken at the kind of slow-to-medium tempo that Konitz’s dry extemporaneousness made into a signature—somewhere between birthing the cool opposite Miles Davis and Gil Evans and fully absorbing the lessons of piano maverick Lennie Tristano—but the tension in the music was created by Baron’s change-ups and pulse injections. Guitarist Bill Frisell always sounds like water that can get choppy sometimes but never resists buoyancy, while Peacock soaks up the music in its entirety and shoots back sheer perfection, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. It’s tempting to not rush anything when encountering Konitz’s stoic stance, but as the group broke down into subsets (guitar against sax or bass, drums opposite each), Peacock clearly began punching his notes and playing even more of them. Beginning with the pieces “Body & Soul” and “Stella By Starlight” (both on the group’s forthcoming live album on Half Note), the bassist’s contribution began to set up a push-pull onstage, rather assuredly affected by Baron’s energy.
If that suggests that the rhythm section was dominant, remember that Konitz’s method has long asked the entire band to contribute thematic lines while remaining sensitive to the whole. That’s the Tristano part of his background asserting itself, and it can easily blur the line between leader and accompanist. Last night, it probably bore the tastiest fruit on “Just Friends,” which kicked into a speedier tempo without losing the subtlety that had taken place beforehand. Unless you’re as deep a connoisseur of chords as the members of the band, it may take a minute or so to know what tune Enfant Terribles is beginning, but on “Just Friends” they presented it right out of the gate. Additives to its surprising e- and d-flat familiarity were handled by all, though it was Frisell and Konitz (the latter playing beautifully despite what seemed like reed troubles) who kept jumping in with remarkably crystalline statements. It was nobody’s band, but the rhythm section’s timekeeping kept the music surging forward.
Critical bias: I dig when avant-gardism doesn’t call attention to itself.
Overheard: “We’ll have to see if the architect can blend Japanese austerity with sort of Turkish all-over-the-place. I’d prefer the Turkish direction, and quite frankly, I don’t think it’s gonna be possible for my father to have both.”
Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Body & Soul
Stella By Starlight
I Can’t Get Started
I’ll Remember April