Saturday, January 10, 2015

CD Review: Lennie Tristano - Chicago April 1951

Lennie Tristano
Chicago April 1951

During his piano solo on the uptempo "Palo Alto," Lennie Tristano plays a chorus that rolls on for at least 12 bars without a break in the melodic development. It's the equivalent to a horn player blowing for that long without stopping to take a breath. Tristano rattles off a rather even set of eighth notes, perhaps a little straid compared to what his pianistic peers were doing at the time, but the ideas at the foundation of it are startling, in length and continuity.

Tristano's legacy has its fair share of followers, who rabidly champion his teachings. (He was one of the first serious teachers of post-war jazz.) Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh were two of his most famous students, but pianist Connie Carothers also carries the Tristano flag in her solid work.

Yet he isn't always talked about in the same pantheon of other post-war jazz pianists, due in part perhaps to his reluctance to take the usual jazz musician track of playing nightclubs to the often less-than-appreciative audience. (This disc includes one such example of Tristano giving a snarky-yet-professional rejoinder to someone wanting to hear "Tennessee Waltz.") While the music was rich in melodic extrapolations, there are times when it could come across as a bit academic, with the rewritten themes to standards coming off a bit like complex practice routines. (See Warne Marsh's Intuition album.) Tristano also liked his rhythm sections to play it pretty straight, leaving the heavy lifting to him and the horns.

Having said that, this album presents all the strong points of Tristano's legacy, and then some. Recorded fairly well at Chicago's Blue Note Jazz Club, the pianist leads a group not only with Konitz and Marsh but trombonist Willie Dennis, perhaps best known for his appearance of Charles Mingus's Mingus Ah Um, and another student of the maestro. Buddy Jones and Mickey Simonetta round out the group on bass and drums, respectively.

Though Tristano calls the tunes, acts the leader and clearly presides over the music, many of the songs come from Konitz and Marsh, who write their own heads for jazz standards. What comes across most significantly is the way the horns handle this rocky terrain so gracefully. While the saxophonists were brothers at arms, Dennis fits in tightly with them, the resulting harmonies recalling the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions, in which Konitz participated a few years prior.

The depth of the rhythm section doesn't always come across in the recordings, so it's often hard to try and follow the harmonic cues the musicians are using. Jones plays steady walking bass lines virtually throughout the whole package and Simonetta is solid but restrained.  When the chord changes get a little blurry, the focus moves to the solos themselves. It's easy to get lost in them, so expansive are these guys. The two-disc set includes many of the major works that Konitz had recorded for Prestige and New Jazz at the time: "Sound-Lee" (a rework of "Too Marvelous for Words"), "Palo Alto" ("Strike Up the Band"), "Tautology" ("Indiana," the basis for Tristano's "No Figs" as well). Marsh contributes "Background Music" (based on "All of Me") and gets credit for two versions of "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me Variations." Both horn men penned "Sax of a Kind," which is based on "Fine and Dandy."

Chicago April 1951 can arguably be placed with those original studio recordings considering there are few documents of the group playing them live, and none with Dennis in the fold.


Marcello Menta said...

"No Figs" is based on "Indiana", instead of "Idaho". "Sax of a Kind" is based on "Fine and Mellow". There were no original harmonic lines in the Tristano School; all the material was based on Standards.
Best regards
Marcello Menta

Marcello Menta said...

Sorry, I wanted to say "Fine and Dandy" insteas of "Fine ans Mellow"

shanleymusic said...

Marcello, thanks for checking out the blog and thanks for the observations. Edits have been made! - mike

Anonymous said...

Marcello Menta said...
"There were no original harmonic lines in the Tristano School; all the material was based on Standards."

I'm not sure what you mean by the "Tristano School", but "Fishin' Around" although sometimes attributed to Arnold Fishkin, has a uniquely original bridge composed by Lennie Tristano. The same is true of "Wow" by Tristano, and is also true of "CrossCurrent" by Tristano. Additionally, "Ju-Ju" has a very interesting variation in the changes going just before the last eight bars.

Anonymous said...

I would like to add to the above comment that to my ears, the songs, "Atonement" and "Coolin' off with Ulanov", both by Lennie Tristano, have completely original changes and are not based on standards at all.

Albert Pin said...

"Wow" is based on "You can depend on me", Ju-Ju on "Indiana" and "Coolin'off" on "Sweet Georgia Brown" .