Lee Konitz

Italian Ballads, Vol. 1

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Can you even imagine a better pairing for a piano saxophone duet of Italian ballads? This highly unusual program, recorded while Konitz was on tour in 1993, is easily one of the artist's finest outings since the late 1970s. Battaglia is the king of lyrical jazz piano in Italy, and is particularly suited to Konitz's arid, whispering tone, with his gorgeous augmented chord voicings and shimmering glissando in the middle and upper registers. The material comes from both jazz and pop sources, and is well suited to harmonic pairing down with Konitz assuming the line and Battaglia becoming both rhythm and lead section accompaniment. But Konitz does more than just nuance melodies; he imbues every bar with a jazzmans' sense of timing and verve. His phrasing, slow and elongated, takes tension out of a piece as he sings it through the bell of the horn. Konitz also looks into the elemental structures of these tunes for the overlooked, the hidden accent a particular harmonic sequence turns on, and then stresses it just enough to allow Battaglia to move outside the tune and into the sonant world for clues, glues, and answers. This is as beautiful a collection of ballads as you are likely to find anywhere -- even if you don't know any of them.

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