Lee Konitz never lets you see him sweat. When the Chicago-bred alto saxist first came on the scene–as a disciple of the minimalist jazz pianist Lennie Tristano and the only bop-era altoist to develop a style distinct from Charlie Parker’s–he evinced a sparkling, disciplined technique at speedy tempos. He spun steeplechase runs on recordings by Tristano’s combos, and his solos flowed swift and clean out of the ensemble passages in the iconic Birth of the Cool sessions he recorded with Miles Davis. But since the late 50s Konitz has steadily pruned his style of virtually all ornamentation, inserting unexpected pauses between his asymmetrical phrases and slowing the rhythms of his improvising by half or more. Now, as he nears 73, no one can tell if he’s actually lost a step or five, because he’s been playing like an old man for the last 30 years. I don’t mean to suggest that he sounds in any way decrepit–his phlegmatic improvisations display more thought and creativity than the gimmicks and favorite riffs some young lions lean on to get through a solo. His relentless purification of cool-jazz attributes like the wise use of space and the de-emphasis of flamboyance has resulted in a style that lends itself equally to minimalist surroundings (in the 70s he recorded an album of unaccompanied improvisations), standard jazz combos (as on his recent disc for RCA-Victor, the lovely The Sound of Surprise), and even experiments in classical music (he improvises in front of a string quartet on his new album of French impressionist music, due this month on Palmetto). But nothing enhances Konitz’s bittersweet lyricism better than the pianoless trio format: he first used it in 1961, with bassist Sonny Dallas and star drummer Elvin Jones on the recently reissued Motion (Verve), and he returns to it for these gigs with attentive bassist Ron McClure and inventive drummer Jeff Williams. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, September 8 and 9, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, September 10, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.