Live at Birdland

Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian

A quartet of master musicians and a programme of jazz classics. “Live At Birdland” presents the finest moments from two inspired nights at New York’s legendary club, as Konitz, Mehldau, Haden and Motian play “Lover Man”, “Lullaby Of Birdland”, “Solar”, “I Fall In Love Too Easily”, “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” and “Oleo” with freedom, tenderness, and a love of melody that only jazz’s greatest improvisers can propose.

"If you’re trying to imagine what jazz sounds like in a dream state, Lee Konitz’s "Live at Birdland" will get you there…"
– Evan Haga, JazzTimes

Featured Artists Recorded

December 2009, Birdland, New York

Original Release Date

13.05.2011

  • 1Lover Man
    (James Davis, James Sherman, Roger Ramirez)
    12:05
  • 2Lullaby Of Birdland
    (George Shearing)
    10:16
  • 3Solar
    (Miles Davis)
    11:39
  • 4I Fall In Love Too Easily
    (Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne)
    10:17
  • 5You Stepped Out Of A Dream
    (Gus Kahn, Nacio Herb Brown)
    11:49
  • 6Oleo
    (Sonny Rollins)
    15:19
Konitz, Mehldau, Haden and Motian may have done absolutely nothing to prepare for this specific gig at the legendary New York venue near the end of 2009, but they’ve been preparing for moments like these their entire lives.
John Kelman, All about jazz
 
Sulla scena del Birdland ognuno liberava quanta fantasia e tecnica possedesse, in un flusso prodigioso di melodia (sempre grande in ciò l’ottuagenario Konitz), di fine interplay (superbo come Mehldau l’interpreta), di delizie bassistiche (magistrale Haden), di sostegno ritmico (Motian si tiene solo in apparenza sullo sfondo). Il repertorio (sei brani bene estesi, tutti tra i dieci minuti e i quindici) potrebbe essere un omaggio a Miles, a Rollins, a Sinatra: lo è, in realtà, alla bellezza del jazz.
Maletto, Musica Jazz
 
Hadens sonorer Bass, Motians atmende, aleatorische Perkussion, Mehldaus auf behutsame Weise stupendes Piano und Konitz’ klar- queres Alto ergeben insgesamt eine hohe Schule des Fragmentarischen. So etwas wie Neuerschaffung der Welt aus dem Augenblick. Für mich schon jetzt die CD des Jahres.
Peter Rüedi, Weltwoche
 
Mehldau’s uncanny amplification of Konitz’s phrases, and his breathtaking solos on Lullaby of Birdland, Solar, and You stepped Out of a Dream (in which the pianist Haden and Motian sound even more of a dream team than might have been anticipated) are irresistible, as is Konitz’s imaginative distortion of the architecture of I Fall in Love Too Easily, and the classical-sounding duo rhapsody that piano and sax get into at its close. Nor is this exclusively a low-key exercise: it includes four-way up-tempo discussions that fizz with collective energy.
John Fordham, The Guardian
 
Cet enregistrement réalisé lors d’une poignée de concerts où il fallait visiblement être brille à la fois d’une audace et d’une retenue qui en font une petite merveille de finesse et d’intelligence. Lumineux comme une nuit étoilée.
Rolling Stone
 
Wie Perlen der Erinnerung werden die Themen frei erzählt, wechselseitig ergänzt, kommentiert und zu einer weit entwickelten Musik ausgesponnen. Daß dieser Mitschnitt auf CD verfügbar ist, ist auch deswegen wunderbar, weil man diese Stücke nun mehrmals hören kann, genauer als im Konzert. Dessen Spontaneität ist auf dem Livemitschnitt sehr gut eingefangen. […] weit über Bop, Cool, Modal oder Free hinaus: ein immenser Raum öffnet sich für eine wunderschöne hochkomplexe Musik, die genau diese kreative Weite beim Hören vermittelt.
NDR
 
These tracks, recorded over a one-week gig in December 2009, document what makes jazz the unique experience that it is. With no prior rehearsal, three giants of the form plus a formidable contemporary voice engaged in creative spontaneity of a very high order, fashioning immediate statements from a song list of standards and jazz classics. […] this is what jazz, at its creative best, is all about.
Duane Verh, Jazz blues
 
Of the four or five coolest things about jazz, this album covers most of them.
Chris Jorgensen, Billings Gazette
 
Beautiful and elegant throughout, this is one of those all-star sessions that you come to with high expectations – and it greatly exceeds them. Highly recommended.
Rick Anderson, CD hotlist for libraries
 
Das Resultat ist ein Idealbild von Jazz: vier Musiker, die ihre spielerischen Routinen eingemottet haben und nur dann spielen, wenn sie einen musikalischen Gedanken haben, die einander zuhören, aufeinander reagieren und im Prozess des Spiels immer wieder andere Perspektiven einnehmen, aus denen das vertraute Material plötzlich unvertraut und neu ist. Jeder Ton klingt bedeutsam wie ein erstes Mal. Mit dieser Aufnahme wird aus dem vergänglichen Konzert ein nachhaltiges Ereignis.
Stefan Hentz, Die Zeit
 
If you want to hear this quartet – and you do – you have to pick up this disc. No reunion dates are planned.
Steve Greenlee, Boston Globe
 
These guys hook up softly and magically. Mehldau’s inner voicings and bell-ringing of the changes are a delight. Konitz plays with more verve than usual; Haden and Motian sculpt lovely contours.
Paul de Barros, Downbeat
 
Fantastique! Extraterrestre! Non justement, très terrestre! Super-sophistiqué! Hyper-simple! Bouleversant! Leçon de musique! Concentration de vieux sages! Sommet du jazz! Si votre plus chère amie – celle qui vous demande d’écouter „du jazz qui ne fasse pas trop jazz“, parce qu’elle n’aime pas le jazz – résiste encore à ce quatuor princier, n’insistez plus.
Francis Marmande, Le Monde
 
Keine Proben, keine vorbereitete Setliste, aber gebündelte Erfahrungen in der Befreiungsbewegung des modernen Jazz heraus aus überkommenen Korsetten. Zu hören ist unaufgeregt weise Musik, ein Schwelgen in sechs neu gedeuteten Standards, die sanft und mild um und um gewendet zu neuen Essenzen werden. Fern von Routine und in souveränem Understatement breitet man die Stoffe des Lebens voller solistischer und improvisatorischer Finesse hin.
Leipziger Volkszeitung
 
Exigeant donc pour l’oreille, fugace aussi, mais libre et audacieux.
Vincent Bessieres, Jazz News
 
They worked sans set lists. Konitz or Mehldau would back his way into a classic of his choosing, and the others would join in, adhering to Ezra Pound’s dictate that artists “make it new”. […] And Konitz and Mehldau leave enough crumbs behind in their dazzling deconstructions of familiar melodies to prevent anyone from getting lost.
Bill Beuttler, Jazztimes
 
Sie spielten ohne vorgängige Proben Standards. Es wurden Sternstunden.
Hanspeter Vetsch, Schweizer Illustrierte
 
Un classique instantané.
Tribune de Genève
 
Ein derartiger Auftritt ist selten genug und wohl nur in New York City möglich; welch ein Glück also, dass Mikrophone die magischen Momente dieses Quartetts eingefangen haben. Denn zauberhaft ist es fürwahr, wie sich die alten Meister quasi ohne Netz, ganz auf ihre radikal zuhörende Sensibilität für Interaktion verlassend, liebevoll der Essenz der jeweiligen Songs annehmen und dabei immer wieder melodische Rohdiamanten freilegen – und sich dann daran erfreuen, wie der Youngster des Quartetts diesen Funden einen brillanten Schliff verleiht.
Thomas Fitterling, Rondo Magazin
 
Rencontre fatale? Unique? Inesperée? Tout cela à la fois. [...] On a le sentiment qu’ils jouent l’un pour l’autre, échangeant leurs conceptions du sublime en art, c’est-à-dire l’émotion passée au Moulin de l’ironie.
Michel Contat, Télérama
 
Nur so schreibt man Jazzgeschichte.
Christian Stolberg, Sono Magazin
 
So when a group like this gets together for an impromptu session at New York’s Birdland – one of jazz’s most productive live recording venues – magic can happen, and it did this night. It’s not a magic of the look at me, virtuosic, fireworks variety, but one of a melding of four different and very experienced perspectives on some of those jazz tunes that seem – after all these years – to be coded in our DNA, the musicians becoming one on this outing, creating melodic mutations that give birth to new sonic entities, new spezies altogether, maybe even a new genus or two, recognoziable, but very different from the original organisms while stilll exuding a quality of familiar beauty.
Dan McClenaghan, All about jazz
 
Petite leçon de jeunesse éternelle.
Christophe Passer, L’Hebdo
 
If you wish to hear how the past, present, and future of jazz intersect make it a point to pick up „Live At Birdland“ and dig through the ECM crates as well.
James McQuiston, Neufutur
 
To hear four musicians of this caliber play together the way they do is a marvel. “Live At Birdland” is one of those records that will make a true believer out of even the most doubting Thomas.
Greg Barbrick, Blinded by sound
 
Denn wer Standards so zelebriert wie dieses Allstar-Quartett, immer wieder eine neue Perspektive suchend, die Schwerpunkte verändernd, und sei es das Tausendste Mal, nur um ja nicht so zu klingen wie am Abend zuvor, der weiß um das Geheimnis echter Innovation.
Reinhard Köchl, Jazzthetik
 
Quello che però impressiona sono l’imprevedibilità e la creatività di un quartetto riunitosi per l’occasione, che è capace di improvvisare e di inventare ancora qualcosa di nuovo su pezzi suonati da centinaia e centinaia di volte. [...] Insomma Live At Birdland è al tempo stesso la celebrazione dell’arte dell’incontro e la quintessenza del jazz, ciò che differenzia questo linguaggio da altri generi musicali.
Ivo Franchi, JAM
 
In the happiest circumstances, a jam session can be the essence of the jazz experience. Here, four musicians came together with no plan, no arrangements, no tune list. They depended on their musicianship, taste, mutual knowledge of standard songs and senses of adventure and humor. The music thay made has the freshness of spontaneity and the wisdom of experience.
Doug Ramsey, Arts Journal
 
Full of songs stretching past 10 minutes, this is a document of patient exploration, affectionately burrowing into standards in search of something new.
Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times
 
Equilibre parfait entre les quatre éléments: Lee Konitz (l’air: son alto vole, plane, avec une telle grâce), Brad Mehldau (l’eau: son piano est si fluide), Charlie Haden (la terre: a-t-on déjà vu contrebasse aux racines si profondes?) et la batterie de Pail Motian (le feu sous la braise).
B.L., Nouvel Observateur
“This week,” reported the New York Times in December 2009, “Birdland has booked an ad hoc quartet with three eminences and a great younger player. (…) It’s going to be a week of soft anarchy, a gig without preparation or rehearsal, despite the presence of recording microphones for a couple of evenings. The jazz musician’s trust in the present moment is elevated nearly to worship among this group’s elders, all of whom, one way or another, were in on the early stages of loosening up rhythm and structure in jazz.”

On this live recording from New York’s legendary club, an ensemble of history-making players dives into the music without a set list. Four exceptional jazz musicians –Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian - approach the standards from new perspectives and unusual angles. They play them with freedom, tenderness and a melodic and rhythmic understanding found only amongst jazz’s greatest improvisers.

The recording was made at Birdland and mixed by Manfred Eicher and the quartet, with James Farber as engineer, at New York’s Avatar Studios. Songs selected by this team from the performances of December 9 and 10, 2009, are: “Lover Man”, “Lullaby Of Birdland”, “Solar”, “I Fall In Love Too Easily”, “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” and “Oleo”. Konitz has often said that he tries to play the material as if encountering it for the first time. With all four musicians listening intently, discoveries are continually made in the music.

“Lover Man”, the ballad strongly associated with Billie Holiday (but also, for instance, with Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan at Newport) makes an arresting opening track, with the uniquely melancholy cry of Lee’s alto sax to the fore. Mehldau’s solo gives immediate notice of his architectural intelligence as a player, and in his subtle comping he continually builds bridges between the idiosyncratic playing styles of his associates. Haden’s bass solo is characteristically soulful, Motian’s deft brushes perfectly placed.

“Lullaby Of Birdland”, composed in 1952, acquires additional poignancy through the recent death of its composer, George Shearing. (Lee Konitz, now 83, is said to be the only living jazz soloist to have played all of the diverse addresses of the Birdland club, starting in 1949.) The piece is driven here by the marvellous rhythmic interplay of Haden and Motian, their near-telepathic understanding honed long ago during their decade-plus association with Keith Jarrett in the 1960s and 70s.

“Solar” begins with an abstract clarion call from Konitz. “Mr. Konitz, with a piece of fabric stuffed into the bell of his horn to mute it, started playing Miles Davis’s ‘Solar’ and Mr. Motian joined in, followed by the others. A skeletal groove emerged…”, wrote Ben Ratliff in the NY Times. Mehldau’s solo is a marvel of invention, lifted up by the waves of Motian’s wayward drums.

“I Fall In Love Too Easily” is a touching rendition of the Jule Styne ballad (a song first intoned by Frank Sinatra in 1945) with fine outlining of the melody by Mehldau, and Konitz almost Ornette-like in his phrasing. The singing quality of the performance is extended in Haden’s heartfelt solo.

“You Stepped Out Of a Dream” was previously recorded by Konitz, Mehldau and Haden for a Blue Note trio album 1997: the powerful presence of Paul Motian on the present recording transforms it completely.

Sonny Rollins’s “Oleo” is given one of the freest performances of the set, beginning with a beautifully elastic Konitz/Motian duet. Brad Mehldau has commented on the performance’s cool chromaticism, allied to the rhythmic phrasing of bebop, until the tune is deconstructed in the final moments of collective soloing.

When these musicians play the standards, they do indeed make them new.