The Complete Atlantic Recordings of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, and Wayne Marsh
If Barry Ulanov's edict-"The long line is all"-is central to your thinking about Lennie Tristano's music, then Larry Kart's booklet essay included in The Complete Atlantic Recordings of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh is a must read. At first, Kart's assertion that "Rhythm is the paramount issue in Tristano-related music" seems overly bold. Yet, over the course of the eight original LPs that comprise this well remastered set (only four previously unissued performances were found; the truncated tracks included on The Real Konitz and Warne Marsh remain so), Kart's points about the contrasting metrical patterns Tristano and Marsh superimposed upon a basic 4/4, the primary rhythmic function of Tristano's "skid"-like runs, and the various approaches the three had to "strict and loose time," form a cogent argument that substantively enhances the experience of the music.
Kart's thesis is also a useful tool to reexamine the distinct musical personalities of Tristano, Konitz, and Marsh, who have often been critically compressed into a composite identity. It deepens our sense of the pianist's probity, exemplified by the tape-speeded tracks on Tristano and the unaccompanied solos that comprise The New Tristano (at last, "C Minor Complex" is on CD; this bona fide masterpiece was odiously omitted on Rhino's single-disc package of these two albums).
Interestingly, Kart expands upon Ulanov's liner note invocations of Bach (which are included in the 20-page large format booklet, along with those of the other original LPs) by deftly referring to a Charles Rosen analysis, in which the maverick classical pianist (whose own recordings of Beethoven's late sonatas are casebook studies in Tristano-like veering between strict and loose time) details how Bach masked the thematic entrances of his fugues by tying the opening notes of a theme to the previous phrase. While Kart doesn't draw on Ulanov's insight that Tristano approached 4/4 as "a continuity of beats 1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1, without any bar-line restrictions," he still demonstrates Tristano's allegedly linear art to be necessarily innovative in its approach to rhythm. It then becomes particularly rewarding to rehear not only the aforementioned tracks, but also the two CDs of the '55 Sing Song Room material with Konitz, Gene Ramey and Art Taylor (three alternates debut here: "April," "Donna Lee" and "Background Music").
Konitz emerges as the least ideological of the three, the artist who most subordinates theory and pedagogy to the unfolding moment. The introduction of Konitz's tenor during this period is emblematic of this. His premiere tenor recordings on '56's Lee Konitz Inside Hi-Fi document how Konitz first translated the refinements of his alto conception to the larger horn, even on would-be barn burners as "Indiana" (which also features an excellent solo by pianist Sal Mosca), and began to apply the tenor's capacity for broader, bolder strokes to such fine alto performances as the bluesy "Cork 'N' Bib." The contrasts between Konitz's alto and tenor are well-represented on "Kary's Trance," which includes choruses on both horns; the track is also one of guitarist Billy Bauer's finest. Yet, it is the '57 Pittsburgh club performances, released as The Real Lee Konitz, where Konitz's alto best conveys the freewheeling brawn of the tenor (the date also is noteworthy for the work of Bauer and bassist Peter Ind). Konitz's compelling performances on edited tracks like the sprinting "Midway" make the loss of those unused portions particularly lamentable.
Much of the Marsh material has been lost-only 14 of the 20 sides waxed for '55's Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh and '57-8's Warne Marsh survive; of Marsh's five tracks with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, only two remain. Still, the collection creates a solid portrait of Marsh as striking a rough balance between Tristano's thoroughly integrated designs and Konitz's game, let's-blow spontaneity. The date co-led by the saxists was recorded almost two years before The Real Lee Konitz, so Konitz is not quite as free-ranging as the live date; however, with Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke in the rhythm section alongside Bauer and Mosca (who proves to be a credible blues soloist on the bassist's "Don't Squawk"), and a program that includes Tristano's "Two Not One" and "Donna Lee," the music regularly reaches a simmer.
Already, Marsh's phrases lope through and leap-frog over the bar lines, but it is only on his eponymous debut as a leader that some grit is added to his sound, giving it enough heft to command both the Chambers and Jones-propelled quartet with pianist Ronnie Ball, and, on the remaining four tracks, the trio with Chambers and Paul Motian. Whereas Tristano is the dominant figure at the beginning of this very instructive collection, it is this last image of Warne Marsh's individualism that burns brightest.