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Lennie Tristano has been dead since 1978, yet the blind virtuoso pianist remains among the most enigmatic, even paradoxical of jazz innovators. His music was considered cool and intellectual, yet Tristano himself was an intense, often passionate improviser capable of sustained swing. Although he recorded the pioneering free pieces "Intuition" and "Digression," which are included here, most of his music consisted of standards, albeit radically reharmonized. And although he often insisted on uninflected timekeeping from his rhythm sections, he responded well to more active drummers, who seemed to bring out the best in him.
Some of the music in this four-CD box has classic stature, some is very rare, some previously unissued. Disc one begins with a real coup, a 1945 session led by the obscure tenor man Emmett Carls that is a forward-looking little gem. The rest of disc one, and nearly all of disc two, consist mostly of drummer-less trios and some fine solo piano. There is much brilliant Tristano, but after a while, the sameness of the format and the lack of rhythmic variation might cause monotony to set in for some listeners.
Disc three starts off with a bang, a rousing "Victory Ball" by the 1949 Metronome All-Stars, in which Charlie Parker absolutely burns. Then, enter Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and some drummers, and guitarist Billy Bauer carries over from the trio sides. These provide the long snaking lines and often dazzling collective improvisation for which Tristano is justly celebrated. Disc four is highlighted by a 1952 Toronto concert filled with enough exhilarating music to refute the notion that Tristano was strictly cool school.
Unfortunately, the remastering of this box is inconsistent, to say the least. The sound on the first two discs is sometimes muffled and distant, and downright scratchy at its worst. The sound on the last two discs is much better, very good on a 1951 trio date, and fairly good on the Toronto concert. Tristano didn't record much, and most of his 1945-1952 output is included here. The fact that so much classic music is included in one set is noteworthy. This set isn't for audiophiles or completists, but it is a comprehensive, affordable ticket to Tristano's fascinating universe.
Track Listing: Disc One: Tea For Two (2 takes), Blue Lou, These Foolish Things (2 takes), It's The Talk Of The Town (2 takes), Yesterdays, What Is This Thing Called Love, Don't Blame Me, I Found A New Baby, I Can't Get Started, A Night In Tunisia, Out On A Limb (3 takes), I Can't Get Started (2 takes), I Surrender Dear (3 takes), Interlude (6 takes). Disc Two: Untitled Blues, Blue Boy, Atonement, Coolin' Off With Ulanov (2 takes), Ghost Of A Chance, Spontaneous Combustion, Just Judy, Supersonic, On A Planet, Air Pocket, Celestia, Freedom, Parallel, Appellation, Abstraction, Palimpsest, Dissonance, Through These Portals, Speculation, New Sound, Resemblance. Disc Three: Victory Ball, Tautology, Subconscious Lee, Retrospection, Judy, Wow, Crosscurrent, Yesterdays, Marionette, Sax Of A Kind, Intuition, Digression, Remember, Pennies, Foolish Things, Indiana, I'm No Good Without You. Disc Four: Sax Of A Kind, You Go To My Head, Ju-Ju, Passtime, Lennie's Pennies, 317 East 32nd, You Go To My Head, April, Sound Lee, Back Home.
Personnel: Lennie Tristano, piano; Shorty Rogers, trumpet; Earl Swope, trombone; Lee Konitz, alto sax; Emmett Carls, Warne Marsh, tenor sax; John LaPorta, clarinet; Billy Bauer, guitar; Chubby Jackson, Leonard Gaskin, Clyde Lombardi, Bob Leininger, John Levy, Arnold Fishkin, Joe Shulman, Peter Ind, bass; Don Lamond, Shelly Manne, Harold Granowsky, Denzil Best, Jeff Morton, Roy Haynes, Al Levitt, drums. On "Victory Ball" only: Tristano, piano; Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, trumpet; Kai Winding, J.J.Johnson, trombone; Charlie Parker, alto sax; Charlie Ventura, tenor sax; Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Buddy DeFranco, clarinet; Bauer, guitar; Eddie Safranski, bass; Manne, drums.