Lennie Tristano – Chicago, April 1951 – Uptown Records UPCD 27.78/27.79 (2 CDs) TT: 104:04 ****:

(Willie Dennis – trombone; Lee Konitz – alto sax; Warne Marsh – tenor sax; Lennie Tristsano – piano; Burgher”Buddy” Jones – bass; Dominic ”Mickey” Simonetta – drums)

The cool jazz/bebop style music offered by Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, and Warne Marsh was never truly understood much less fully appreciated. In the Oxford Companion To Jazz edited by Bill Kirchner, the writer Ted Gioia in an essay entitled ”Cool Jazz And West Coast Jazz” offered the following description of these musicians : “these three visionary artists proffered a music….characterized by byzantine melodic lines, attenuated rhythms and acerbic harmonies”. All these traits are on full display in this previously- unreleased live session, from The Blue Note Jazz Club in Chicago, that has been uncovered by producer Robert Sunenblick, MD, entitled Lennie Tristano – Chicago, April 1951, now issued on Uptown Records.

Although this package comes as a two CD set, it seems to make sense to look at the music as a whole, rather than by individual CD since in many ways the performances are seamless. As such the music is very dense, almost baroque-like. It is filled with point, counterpoint, and harmonic lines that are so inter-twined that any lack of attention by the listener may mean missing out on some improvisational dialogue among the musicians. The set list is composed of well known standards, which are nothing more than jumping off points for long improvisations. For those unfamiliar original pieces, they are complex chord changes on standards such as “Too Marvellous For Words” which becomes “Sound-Lee”. In this composition, as a harbinger of what is to come throughout the session, the principals spin-out long textured lines, with Konitz’s feather-light lyrical alto sax showing the way.

There are a couple of double-plays in this set including “All The Things You Are” which opens with Marsh’s tenor sax laying down four strong choruses, followed by Willie Dennis on trombone, who had been hired specifically for this outing. Although Dennis was a student of Tristano’s, he had not previously been involved with the band. This was, in effect, his first real exposure which captures his capabilities and inventiveness, that were to serve him well as his career progressed. The second version of this tune comes at the end of CD 2,  which follows along similar lines, with Marsh first out of the gate but in greater interplay with Konitz. All the while Tristano is comping behind them, until it’s his time to take control of the number with his single-note runs. Unfortunately the number runs out before reaching its natural conclusion.

There is another twofer with the “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me Variations” which feature all the intricacies and multi-dynamic playing that this band epitomizes. Additionally, there are several numbers using chord changes that are worth mentioning. “No Figs” is based on “Indiana” which has some dazzling interactions among Marsh, Kontiz and Dennis to lead off the number, and then settles into long improvisational passages from each player, where there is a fulsome demonstration of ingenuity and technique. “Palo Alto,” based on “Strike Up The Band,” has an even more complex opening than the prior number, and then in an up-tempo fashion, takes the players into a solid mode that almost defies gravity. Tristano’s key-striking in this number is at its most forceful and creative. As for “Tautology” which is based on “Idaho” there is a fascinating opening chorus, followed by deft solos from Marsh and Dennis,  and thereafter Konitz in full flight. Tristano plays his solo with conviction , and then the horns engage in eight bar exchanges before a close out with the theme.

Finally to supplement the enjoyment of the music, Bob Blumenthal has  written a terrific booklet that is both a pictorial and descriptive portrait of the musicians and their history. As he ends the liner notes, Blumenthal offers the following advice: “if you take jazz seriously, you must hear this.”


CD1: Sound-Lee; All The Things You Are; I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me Variations; Sax Of A Kind; Background Music; I’ll Remember April; I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me Variation

CD2: These Foolish Things; No Figs; Palo Alto; Judy; Pennies From Heaven; Tautology; All The Things You Are

—Pierre Giroux