Chicago's blind pianist Lennie Tristano (1919), of Italian-American descent,
who arrived in New York in 1946, fused bebop and 20th-century classical music
in his abstract meditations that wove extended melodies over subdued rhythms,
the musical equivalent of a renaissance painting with a complex building in
the foreground and a simple, pastoral landscape in the background.
He was not a poet but an architect: his pieces relied on several levels of
counterpoint and even dissonance.
They were frigid and lifeless by the standards of jazz music.
Tristano coined that language in 1947, via a series of uncompromising
recordings both solo (Atonement in may 1947,
Spontaneous Combustion in september 1947)
and in a drum-less trio with a guitarist (Billy Bauer) and a bassist
(Dissonance, Parallel, Apellation, Abstraction, Palimpsest, Freedom in december 1947).
Two years later a quintet with Tristano, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, guitarist Billy Bauer and drummer Shelly Manne laid the foundations for a group version of that art with Konitz's Subconscious-Lee and Tristano's Retrospection , off Lennie Tristano Quintet featuring Lee Konitz (january 1949), as well as Konitz's Tautology on Lee Konitz with Tristano, Marsh and Bauer (january 1949).
Free jazz was invented in 1949 (ten years before the term was coined) when
Tristano's sextet (alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh, guitarist Billy Bauer, bass and drums) recorded Intuition and Digression,
two completely improvised free-form jams (no preset tempo, meter or chord progression).
They were but two of the tracks of Crosscurrents (march 1949), that also
included Wow and Sax of a Kind.
That album's austere and elegant improvised counterpoint was as pioneering for cool jazz as Miles Davis' Birth Of The Cool.
The dissonant Descent into the Maelstrom (june 1953), for overdubbed pianos,
was an even more formidable attack against musical conventions.
Two pieces recorded in october 1951 by a piano-bass-drums trio,
Ju-Ju and Pastime, were actually assembled in the studio by
Tristano, manipulating and overdubbing sections of music.
The double-disc Chicago, April 1951 (Uptown, 2014) features
Lennie Tristano on piano, Lee Konitz on alto sax, Warne Marsh on tenor
sax, Willie Dennis on trombone, Buddy Jones on bass and Mickey Simonetta
on drums, and documents an unreleased live session with
Sound-Lee (9:21); All The Things You Are (8:59); Sax Of A Kind (5:10); Background Music (8:10); I'll Remember April (9:17); I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me Variations (7:38); These Foolish Things (3:30); No Figs (9:48); Palo Alto (7:54); Judy (3:53); Pennies > From Heaven (8:28); Tautology (7:45).
After a three-year hiatus,
the bluesy and fully improvised Requiem,
Line Up, for another piano-drums-bass trio and accelerated in the studio,
and Turkish Mambo, that overdubbed three tracks in different meters to create a rhythmic effect that a pianist could not achieve, all three off Lennie Tristano (1955),
the nine improvisations of Manhattan Studio (1956) for piano trio (with
Manhattan Studio and Momentum),
Continuity (october 1958), with Warne Marsh, bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Paul Motian, off Continuity,
and The New Tristano (1960), a set of breathtaking improvised piano solos (notably Becoming, the spectacular C Minor Complex, the suite
Scene and Variations, Deliberation, G Minor Complex)
continued to refine his language, which was now widely understood.
The dynamic of his compositions was often cyclic, alternating quiet passages and stormy passages, hinting at an endless cycle of rebirths.
Tristano died in 1978.
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