Lennie Tristano: Background Music


Background Music


Lennie Tristano (piano)


Continuity (Jazz Records JR6CD)

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Lennie Tristano (piano), Warne Marsh (tenor sax), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Sonny Dallas (bass), Nick Stabulas (drums).

Composed by Warne Marsh


Recorded: Live at the Half Note, New York, June 1964


Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

The sound quality is quite poor, and the performance is incomplete. But Tristano's solo here is absolutely riveting, full of intensity and élan. The track starts without the melody statement . . . Tristano is in full flight, tossing off chorus after chorus of improvised lines—fast, intricate phrases that go on and on and on. So little of his work from this period is available on record, that it is easy to think of Lennie as having lost his edge, embracing the quiet life of a teacher and mentor to others. But this performance, taken at a demonic tempo, tells a much different story. This is fiery music, and full of surprises. At one point, Tristano lets loose with a barrage of majestic syncopated chords, breaking up the tapestry he is weaving out of single-note lines, and sounding as if he is ready to take off into the stratosphere. This is some righteous piano playing, let me tell you. And if it is true, as many assert, that this pianist wouldn't let a drummer challenge him, you wouldn't be able to prove it by this performance. Stabulas is very aggressive, and Tristano clearly feeds off the energy. If this is background music, I advise you to steer clear of the foreground.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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