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Lennie Tristano: Abstraction & Improvisation

Nic Jones By

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Pianist, composer and educator Lennie Tristano's place in the history of the music seems anomalous from the vantage point of the twenty-first century. His music was arguably as iconoclastic as that of Charlie Parker's and Dizzy Gillespie's and equally of its time, but in contrast with that it can come across as colorless and one-dimensional. His influence has been limited to the likes of sax players Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz, though amongst his fellow pianists only names such as Connie Crothers and Ronnie Ball spring readily to mind as acolytes. He has thus remained something of an underground figure in the truest sense of that term.

This collection of sides recorded over the course of nearly a decade spanning the years from 1946 to 1955 is unlikely to change that, although it does amount to a snapshot of just how rarefied his music could be. A piece such as "On A Planet is something akin to unique within the whole jazz canon, not least because the interplay between Tristano and guitarist Billy Bauer predates the work of Bill Evans and Jim Hall in a similar setting by some years.

Indeed, the majority of the music here was cut in the piano-guitar-bass trio lineup so beloved of the likes of Art Tatum, and given this similarity it's nothing short of staggering how different the music of the two groups is. Where Tatum's trio was in some respects no more than a vehicle for his extraordinary technical prowess, here on "Celestia is a kind of formalism that again is as good as definable by what it is not. Tristano's slighted stilted rhythmic sense seems like the consequence of something other than any technical shortcoming.

When Konitz and Marsh come in on "Intuition their work sets the seal on the impression that this is ultimately paradoxical music, at one and the same time both of the jazz tradition yet also something unusually self-contained. The results can thus seem quite daunting in their individuality, and it's ultimately a matter of personal taste as to whether or not the effort this implies is worth making.

Track Listing: Untitled Blues; Blue Boy; Atonement; Coolin

Personnel: Lennie Tristano: piano; Billy Bauer: guitar (1-4, 8-19); Clyde Lombardi: bass (1); Bob Lieninger: bass (2-4); John Levy: bass (8-11); Arnold Fishkin: bass (12-19); Lee Konitz: alto saxophone (18, 19); Warne Marsh: tenor saxophone (18, 19); unidentified drummer (18, 19); Peter Ind: bass (20, 23, 26); Roy Haynes: drums (20, 21); Jeff Morton: drums (23, 26).

Title: Abstraction & Improvisation | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: FiveFour

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