Old Songs New
“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”
A longtime devotee and collaborator of Lee Konitz, saxophonist Ohad Talmor conceived of a project to spotlight the legendary altoist’s improvisational genius. The idea was to have Konitz play tunes he loved but, for the most part, had not previously recorded, utilizing his thoughts and feelings about the songs rather than written music. Talmor wrote charts for the backing musicians, Konitz’s nonet, and had the then 90-year-old saxophonist blow over the lush arrangements as the mood struck him. The sonic palette of the resultant release, Old Songs New (Sunnyside), harks back to the Birth of the Cool era Konitz helped usher in alongside Miles Davis, replete with the deep rich tones of alto flute, baritone sax and bass clarinet, as well as viola and cello. The tunes, too, suggest that time period, as Konitz musically reminisces on songbook staples such as “Foolin’ Myself,” “I Cover the Waterfront” and “This Is Always.” Tipping his fedora to Frank Sinatra, Konitz offers a pensive, twilit read of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” recalling the regret-laden rendition Ol’ Blue Eyes definitively rendered on his 1955 album of similar title. Talmor’s melancholy, string-laden arrangement sets off Konitz’s horn like a gem sparkling against dark velvet. The sessions took a few years to complete, but arrived in time for Konitz to see the album released; he passed away in April from COVID-19 complications.