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Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh: Intuition

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This exemplary release pairs a fine record of an underappreciated giant (Marsh) with an essential piece of jazz history-the definitive 1949 recordings by Tristano’s sextet featuring Marsh, Lee Konitz, and guitarist Billy Bauer. Tristano’s significance remains a divisive subject. Lenniephobes seem to view him as the font from which all the excesses of the cool school flowed in a cerebral, flat-toned, formless mass, to somehow threaten the motherlode of real jazz, personified in Silver, Blakey, Mingus et al. The racial overtones were and are apparent, and all this writer can do is report the old news that this faultline is with us yet, still causing tremors but no loss of life.

I certainly find more time for listening to hard-boppers than coolsters but Tristano’s classic period transcends the discussion. The introspective stance of the soloists is balanced by a rhythmic complexity that constantly superimposes phrases implying three, five, or six over the basic four, both in solos and in the dizzying ensemble statements. The overall effect is a music of breathtaking purity. The first recordings of free jazz, “Intuition” and “Digression,” are of more than passing interest, but not the real meat of the proceedings.

Marsh’s “Jazz of Two Cities” is a welcome bonus that shows the tenorman’s great imagination in a more conventional group with Tristano school alumns Ted Brown (tenor) and Ronnie Ball (piano). The two tenor ensembles and solos are high points, though Ball comes off as being rather closely tied to the standard underpinnings when heard on the same record as Tristano.