Eric Rasmussen: Lennie Bird
Eric Rasmussen (alto sax)
School of Tristano 3 (SteepleChase 31663)
Composed by Lennie Tristano.
Recorded: July 2007
Rating: 92/100 (learn more)
As the reader perhaps knows, I have defended the music of Lennie Tristano with the fervor of a true believer (and when it comes to Tristano, the true believers have no shortage of fervor). Yet even I am a bit conflicted by Lennie's loaded legacy. This body of work presents me with an odd dilemma, and I would almost prefer to give two different scores when ranking a track such as Eric Rasmussen's "Lennie Bird." I deeply dig this way of improvising over the chord changes, and would have no hesitation recommending it to musicians. But I fear that non-musicians may be left back at the starting gate, scratching their heads. This is inside jazz, a mindset even more arcane than inside baseball. Everybody can dig Oscar or Ella or Miles, but to approach Lennie Tristano in the right mindset you almost need to go through a hazing and initiation process. (I still have painful memories of sitting on that block of ice while humming "Lennie's Pennies" in all twelve keys.)
Yet you can't fault Rasmussen and company for their smart mastery of the idiom. They clearly survived the hazing experience too, and now know this music inside-out. Somewhere above, Lennie smiles. I smile too, and assure you that I will be listening repeatedly to this CD. I welcome all of you to join me in the experience. That said, if you think that saxophony began and ended with Mr. Kenneth Gorelick, be prepared for a new and perhaps unsettling experience. Of course, if you have already earned your merit badge in Tristanology, this is a recording you really need to own.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia