Lennie Tristano: Line Up


Line Up


Lennie Tristano (piano)


Lennie Tristano / The New Tristano

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Lennie Tristano (piano), Peter Ind (bass), Jeff Morton (drums).

Composed by Lennie Tristano


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

When this track was first released, it attracted enormous attention . . . but not for the music. Tristano had "tampered" with the tapes by recording the piano part over a separate rhythm track, manipulating the music in the process. Tristano never provided details—and got testy when questioned about his method—but it appears that he brought the bass and drums down to half speed, and recorded the piano on top of this slower version, then accelerated the playback rate of the combined performance. A certain ethereal and detached quality permeates the finished product. The piano sound possesses a strange, unnatural crispness, and the question was raised whether Tristano wasn't trying to "trick" people into thinking that he could play faster than was actually the case.

The controversy would be less pronounced today, when studio splicing, dicing and "fixing" are a high-tech art. But the sad result of this brouhaha was that it distracted attention from Tristano's brilliant performance. "Line Up" is one of the great linear improvisations in the modern jazz heritage. Students could profitably study this solo, learning from its crystalline structure, unlocking the artistry of its phrasing, the rhythmic relationship of melody to the ground beat, and the harmonic implications of Tristano's lines. The chord changes are borrowed from "All of Me," but instead of the romantic sensibility of that standard, Tristano offers a diamond-hard coolness purged of all emotional excesses. This is as pure and abstract as music can get. At any speed, "Line Up" is a masterpiece.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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  • 1 Virtuosic1 // Jan 21, 2008 at 01:04 AM
    Most misunderstand Lennie's treatment of phrasing. The Tristano "school of jazz" stresses extreme individualization of individual notes and cells within phrases, each note being of significant importance, not just a "go-to" to get from one end of the phrase to the other. No matter how quickly the notes are played in succession, each one has its own spin with a parameter that sets it apart from the one surrounding it. Because of this, deliberate metric swing, or shuffle, is unnecessary to create dramatic propulsion, which is why the music sounds "cooler" (cool-school) than the jazz norm of pushing tied eighth note trips (the "jazz" eighths played like triplet eighths with the first two notes tied, even though written as straight eighths). Internote dynamics are one way to acheive this. Where most jazz players will swing by rhythmically playing a phrase as: Daaa-Da, Daaa-Da, Daaa-Da, Daaa-Da... etc. but with all other parameters of production being static, "cool-school" players can impart a swingless swing by imparting the following dynamic profile (on a scale of 1-10) to those notes: 5-5-10-5-1-5-1-10-5-1-1-5-10-5-1-10-5-, etc. Now, what that did was very interesting. It created 3 different phrasing sub-groups within the same phrase. Notes that pop out at you dynamically from within the phrase. Keep in mind that the same way Tristano school musicians individualized the dynamics note to note, we also were taught that each note should have an entire life of it's own to maximize instant creation. Not only it's own dynamic, but it's own metric quantized or unquantized placement, it's own ASDR (attack envelope = attack, decay, sustain, release), or duration within that quantized ot unquantized space. Using this type of mindset, you can play the same 10 note phrase over and over and never repeat it exactly the same way twice! Control over the parameter of each note is of equal importance! And think about it. Isn't this what the greatest singers do? Lennie felt that pianists should strive to develop the same amount of control over note production as "breathing" musicians (wind players and singers). This is why singing/scatting with melodies and solos is so very important, not just to duplicate the notes, but to duplicate every phrasing nuance of the dialect one is filling their musical psyche with. Here's my Youtube video of my version of Lennie's Scene and Variation: http://youtube.com/watch?v=5C5gnAqgttY&feature=user
  • 2 Virtuosic1 // Jan 21, 2008 at 01:12 AM
    Lennie could have played these two tracks at tempo but not with the same intense degree of individualized spin on each connecting note. In order to dramatically increase the dynamic curve and phrase envelope, brething more horn-like life into his piano produced lines, Lennie recorded it at half speed, with his right hand one octave below where it sounds on regular speed playback. At two points, it's evident that Lennie "touched" the tape during recording because twice a definite "vibrato" can be heard, especially on the 21st note of E.32nd. I'm sure this wasn't a gliche and purely intentional because it fits a horn phraseology so well. That is the gist of Lennie's half speed recording of these two tracks. Not because he couldn't execute it at full speed, but because he wanted to impart as close of a horn-like phrasing to his piano lines as possible and slow-play made internote dynamics of a wider range possible.
  • 3 GarykPatton // Jun 16, 2009 at 02:07 AM
    Hello, can you please post some more information on this topic? I would like to read more.