Concert review: Lee Konitz and Dan Tepfer at Constellation

By Howard Reich
February 21, 2015

Right away, it was clear this wasn't going to be your typical jazz set.

Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz – at 87 a certifiable jazz legend – stepped into the spotlight at Constellation on Friday night in the company of just one musician: 33-year-old pianist Dan Tepfer. Instrumental duets are not common in jazz performance these days, and partnerships like this – spanning generations – even less so.

Immediately, Konitz and Tepfer took on one of the most complex and demanding jazz ballads in the repertoire, Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." Konitz at first only hinted at the melodic profile of the famous tune, Tepfer playing snippets of sound underneath.

But when Tepfer launched into an easy swing solo and Konitz began singing wordless lines along with him, you knew you were encountering something extraordinary. To hear Konitz chant those craggy notes of his – sometimes reflecting the melody, sometimes dancing around it – while Tepfer picked up on what he heard was to behold two artists communing far outside jazz convention.

This opening improvisation, in other words, wasn't designed for brilliant effect or dramatic climax, and it didn't offer an obvious beginning, middle and end. Nor did the