Saturday, August 16, 2014

Lennie Tristano - "C Minor Complex"

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


As J. Bradford Robinson explains in the following excerpt from The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [Barry Kernfeld, ed.]:

“Tristano's music stands apart from the main tradition of modern jazz, representing an alternative to bop which poses severe demands of ensemble precision, intellectual rigor, and instrumental virtuosity.

Rather than the irregular cross-accents of bop, Tristano preferred an even rhythmic background against which to concentrate on line and focus his complex changes of time signature.

Typically, his solos consisted of extraordinarily long, angular strings of almost even eighth-notes provided with subtle rhythmic deviations and abrasive polytonal effects. He was particularly adept in his use of different levels of double time and was a master of the block-chord style of George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, and others, carefully gauging the accumulation of dissonance.

His experiments in multitrack recording and overdubbing, beginning in 1951 with Juju (not issued until 1971), inspired similar performances by Bill Evans (Conversations with Myself) and others in the 1960s. With his groups he also explored free collective improvisation, most notably in Intuition and Digression (1949).

Although he was accused at the time of being willfully experimental, "free" performances of this sort were in fact part of Tristano's teaching practice (many were taped privately by Bauer) and pointed the way to similar experiments by Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman in the late 1950s.

Tristano excelled as a teacher, demanding and receiving firm loyalty from his pupils, many of whom sacrificed more lucrative careers to continue their work with him. His method stressed advanced ear training and a close analysis of the work of several seminal jazz improvisers, including Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell.

Because of his knowledge of several instruments and broad minded approach Tristano attracted players of different instruments and schools, among them such established musicians as Bud Freeman, Art Pepper, and Mary Lou Williams. Perhaps more than in his own scant recordings, Tristano's influence is felt most strongly in the work of his best pupils - many of whom also became outstanding teachers — and in his example of high -mindedness and perfectionism, characteristics which presupposed for jazz the highest standards of music as art.” [pp. 1218-1219]

My first introduction to Lennie’s Music came from his 1962 Atlantic LP - The New Tristano [1357] and I more or less worked backward from there to familiarize myself with the earlier years of his career including his recordings with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh.


The most engaging track on The New Tristano is Lennie’s C Minor Complex. It was issued on as part of an anthology on Atlantic Jazz Keyboards [R271596] and Dick Katz, himself an accomplished Jazz pianist, had this to say about Lennie, his music and C Minor Complex.

“Tristano is probably the most gifted, original and influential pianist to never achieve a really large audience. Only Herbie Nichols, whose recorded output was so small, rivals him for undeserved obscurity. True, Tristano had a moment of fame when his 1949 recordings with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh turned many musicians on their collective ear. Reclusve by nature and a recalcitrant personality, he avoided the spotlight more than any other comparable talent.

Lennie expanded the harmonic and melodic vocabulary of Jazz in many unique ways. The ability to improvise and sustain the perfect line (melody) was an overriding goal. Polychordal harmony an unusual metric groupings (such as 5 or 7 against 4) were common. Perhaps his greatest disciple was Lee Konitz, who, it must be said, has gone his own way for many years now.

Among the other pianists who were influenced by Tristano are Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. Tristano’s own most obvious influence would see to be Bud Powell, but even though both could achieve a Bach-like torrential quality, they were basically different.

All of Tristano’s aforementioned technical aspects are brilliantly displayed on C minor Complex a tour de force based on the chords to Pennies from Heaven in minor.

This amazing improvisation features a relentless, unyielding single-note bass line from start to finish, contrasted with an increasingly intense and complex single-line right hand.

This builds to a climax via some incredible chordal passages (the bass line never quits) and some amazing toying with the meter. This piece dissolves into more single lines and ends on a satisfying, tranquil note.”

You can listen to C Minor Complex on the following video tribute to Lennie.


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