You, me, the music, and me.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Atlantic 1224 (1955)

Was Lennie Tristano the true father of free jazz? Many would say so; in 1949, Tristano's group recorded "Intuition" and "Digression", two pieces with no written themes or preordained rhythm or tempo. They are the first recorded examples of totally free improvisation in jazz and predate Ornette Coleman's first albums (which were not 100% improv due to the presence of pre-written heads) by nearly a decade.

Tristano's free music bore little resemblance to today's image of avant-garde jazz; melodic lines unfolded slowly and leisurely, creating a weave of counterpoint that, at the time, had more in common with the polytonality of 20th century classical music than jazz. As a result, Tristano's music often gets dismissed by jazz historians and critics as dispassionate and soulless, a laughable claim to anyone with an open ear who has heard his music (such as Charles Mingus, a former student of Tristano's who was heavily influenced by the pianist).

"Line Up" and "East Thirty-second" show Tristano's ability to play snaking single-note lines with the fluidity of a horn player; his improvisations over rapidly walking bass by Peter Ind and Jeff Morton's drums sound eerily similar to Coleman's. The latter track also features staccato, hammering chord clusters like those of Cecil Taylor. The solo "Requiem" opens with ominous, slightly Wagnerian block chords before morphing into a slow 4/4 blues. The album also compiles five live recordings of standards, showcasing Tristano's ability to adapt his technique to the traditional song form. Tristano disciple Lee Konitz plays clear, simple alto sax lines above and around Tristano's comping while bassist Gene Ramey and drummer Art Taylor keep the beat.

Tristano's is a name that deserves to be remembered; his influence is felt in the world of jazz and free improvisation alike, plus he simply made great music that deserves to be heard and preserved.


At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's very good!!


At 1:22 PM, Blogger Peter MacDonald said...

Thank you!


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