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JazzTimes 10: Essential Lennie Tristano Recordings

To honor the influential—and controversial—pianist’s centennial, here are 10 of his greatest moments

  1. Lennie Tristano: “Turkish Mambo” (Lennie Tristano, Atlantic, 1956)

Tristano was and is controversial for a number of reasons, not least his racial blind spots. But the in-its-time controversy surrounding his overdubs on “Turkish Mambo” seems silly today. For one thing, the common use of overdubs in the studio is one of the worst-kept secrets in jazz. For another, “Turkish Mambo” is a magnificent achievement that could have been done in no other way. Accompanied only by a metronome, Tristano tracks himself in four time signatures: three times with only his left hand (first in 7/8, then in 6/8, then in 5/8), and finally improvising on his right hand (which seems to be in 4/4, but the pulse is understandably hard to keep hold of). The improv even offers up bits of blues vocabulary. Preceding Dave Brubeck’s more famous “Blue Rondo à la Turk” by four years, “Turkish Mambo” also anticipates the overlapping-rhythm experiments of Henry Threadgill and the M-Base collective by decades.

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Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.