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Sal Mosca/Warne Marsh Quartet: Volume 1

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Counterpoint, the whorls and eddies produced by two musical streams in confluence, is to many the essence of the musical arts, informing and inspiring composition and performance from Bach to Babbit, from MJQ to NWA. Certainly it sits near the core of the legacy of Lennie Tristano, the blind bop pianist and theorist who broke ground for the cool movement with the swinging momentum of his linear improvisations.

Tristano’s approach set leading voices above a steady, almost metronomic pulse; these sessions, led by two of his followers, find the Tristano tradition somewhat mellowed with age, but no less vibrant. Tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh and pianist Sal Mosca led these sets at the Village Vanguard in 1981, with Frank Canino on bass and Skip Scott on drums. The recordings serve as a wonderful reminder of the powers of musical invention marshaled by Marsh, who passed away in 1987; he approaches the changes as an intellectual challenge, ever intuiting the delightful surprise. He seems to sense where Mosca is going, resulting in gleaming resolutions that materialize from nowhere. Mosca brings plenty of variety to the keyboard, taking Tristano’s concept into a realm of broader interpretations: lines break off into thick chords, phrases run not only across bar lines but across the prevailing pulse. The two CDs are quite uniform in the quality of the performances, though they give little sense of the sets from which they are drawn nor the audience’s reaction. A number of partial takes give Volume 1 a bit of a patchwork feel, given which I would opt for Volume 2 if forced to choose.