Lennie Tristano


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Records bearing Lennie Tristano's name began to appear in 1946. His amazing music filled the closing chapter of Harry Lim's Keynote catalog, and you couldn't ask for a more futuristic finale. "Out on a Limb" opens with a pleasantly dissonant flurry of ascending and descending runs. It is an exciting taste of where jazz was headed then and has been heading ever since. Tristano's music is refreshingly brisk and challenging. Like so many compositions in early modern jazz, most of Lennie's creations were based on existing melodies. "Out on a Limb" is built over the chord progressions of Earl Hines' "You Can Depend on Me," a song that was also clearly the inspiration for Lerner & Loewe's "Almost Like Being in Love." Guitarist Billy Bauer was Lennie's right-hand man. He often carried the melody so the pianist could fully exercise his individuality. Lennie liked to initiate startling pinwheels of repetition where you'd least expect them to appear. Several times during "I Can't Get Started," he cheerfully knocks out a stack of what would conventionally have been considered "wrong notes." Everything flows naturally, especially on "Untitled Blues," which is three minutes and 45 seconds of free and fearless collective improvisation. Stopping abruptly in mid-phrase, apparently because somebody told him they were running out of room on the 10" recording platter, Tristano is silent, then traces a few more arpeggios as a voice asks, "What happened?" The musicians had slipped into full-throttle jam mode, forgetting that they were in a recording studio, subject to time constraints. This wonderful piece of vérité languished for years before being issued as part of the complete Keynote collection. On the October 8, 1946, session, Tristano ran down no less than six versions of Dizzy Gillespie's "Interlude." What we have here is the first take. Six days later, Tristano's trio made two sides for V-Disc, specifically intended for the cultural enrichment of armed forces personnel. Here again was Gillespie's tune, now bearing the title "A Night in Tunisia." Lennie recorded a series of unaccompanied piano solos in September of 1947, but the people at Victor Records couldn't bring themselves to issue these tracks at the time. Thank goodness listeners get to hear them now! Unlike a lot of peoples' chronological reissues, this one is consistent from stem to stern. While digesting multiple Keynote takes is a gas, it's good to hear just the masters bundled together with some of Tristano's rarest small-label sides. About halfway through the disc you stop trying to figure out which jazz standards were used as skeletons for adventurous collective improvisation. You grow lightheaded, and all that really matters are the rituals of experimentation and humble acceptance. As Ornette Coleman would say, after a certain point there really are no wrong notes. Or, as Arnold Schoenberg might add, no tone is more or less legitimate than any other. Which brings us to the question of how something can be "avant-garde" when it's been around for generations. Doesn't the term tell us more about audience -- and critical -- limitations than it does about music or art? The answers lie somewhere between these early Tristano recordings and the extended improvisations that Anthony Braxton has based upon Tristano's still-astonishing ideas. There is no limit to what can be accomplished with intuitive music.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:43
2 2:57
3 3:08
4 3:47
5 3:07
6 2:55
7 2:23
8 2:51
9 2:28
10 2:50
11 2:57
13 2:40
14 3:21
15 3:20
16 2:47
17 2:56
18 3:40
19 2:30
20 1:55
21 2:41
22 2:37
blue highlight denotes track pick