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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: “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.

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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.