This is an odd record. The Art of Improving is made up of 20 excerpts from a 1959 performance of Warne Marsh's quartet (plus some pieces with guest Lee Konitz), each excerpt featuring only Marsh's solo from a given number. The pianist/composer Lennie Tristano, with whom Marsh had a long relationship, evidently decided the only valuable moments from the sessions were these solos, so he simply excised everything else and presented them as self-contained pieces. For the general listener, this, of course, creates some problems. No themes are heard (though many of the pieces are standards), so the basis for the improvisation can often only be guessed at, and, obviously, any sense of wholeness is by the boards. On the other hand, Marsh's tenor playing is supple, silvery, and generally luscious; one wonders at how relatively unappreciated he remained, with the notable exception of avant-garde multi-reedist pioneer Anthony Braxton, who revered him. Perhaps the reason was that his playing tended to be reserved, sly, and bubbling with wit rather than aggressive and anguished. So while the normal jazz listening experience is necessarily lacking, those who want a chance to hear Marsh in isolation (including, presumably, students of the saxophone) might find this release to be a valuable document.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick