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: “C Minor Complex” (The New Tristano, Atlantic, 1962)

On the other hand, The New Tristano showed the world that Tristano not only could swing, but didn’t even need a rhythm section to do it. After the Lennie Tristano overdub flap, this album pointedly disclaims that “No use is made of multi-tracking, overdubbing or tape speeding in any selection”: You are hearing the natural, unadulterated product of Tristano’s two hands. Once again the title is plainspoken truth; the piece is in C minor (Tristano biographer Eunmi Shim says it’s a minor-key contrafact of “Pennies from Heaven,” while critic Stuart Nicholson says it’s based on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”; to this writer’s ear, Nicholson is correct), and it’s incredibly complex. Tristano’s left hand is a walking, single-note bass line, the quarter-note trot that was always his preference. The right hand is all over the place. It begins as a roving single-note line, usually in four but sometimes two, and often pulling behind the beat to generate tension. About halfway through it moves into half-time and block chords, pulling hard against his own walk for almost a full minute. He goes back to single-note lines (the chords recur later), this time with far less obeisance to the beat, before ending on a one-man call-and-response pattern. It’s a remarkable testament to Tristano’s ideas about harmony, rhythm, and melody, articulated by himself alone.

Check the price of The New Tristano on Amazon!

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.