Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lennie Tristano Rarities For Adventurous Listeners

Volumes have been written about pianist Lennie Tristano’s singular impact on jazz, whether his imaginative use of early stereo and studio technology, or his bristling, disquieting harmonic sensibility. Any time someone announces that they’ve unearthed new, previously unheard material by a jazz icon, there’s reason to be skeptical: that material may have never seen the light of day for a good reason. But the Tristano archival collection, the Duo Sessions – dating from the 1970s and streaming at Spotify – has plenty of fascinating moments and historical value.

For example, this is the only known recording of Tristano playing as part of a piano duo, in this case jousting with another formidable improviser, the late Connie Crothers. Their two-part Concerto begins with thumping waves between the two, reaches a momentary plaintive phrase and then follows a twisted boogie-woogie march. Lingering quasi-whole tone scales flicker off into the abyss, Crothers having fun with lively embellishments, playing off Tristano’s lefthand rumble. They reprise the march just as steadily but with more of a jagged, insistent attack that coalesces to a triumphant anthem of sorts before disintegrating for good in the second part.

The album opens with half a dozen much more traditional duets between Tristano and tenor saxophonist Lenny Popkin, sax typically casual and matter-of-factly out front. Tristano comps stabbingly behind the his bandmate’s jaunty phrasing in Out of a Dream, a jarring contrast, but maybe that was the pianist’s point here – and maybe why Popkin drops out all of a sudden. He gets on the page quickly in their pensive second number, simply titled Ballad, Tristano’s uneasy close harmonies even more insistent (and back in the mix), rising to his signature blend of lyricism and fanged unresolve.

The two hit a steady, optimistic swing shuffle in Chez Lennie, Tristano sticking with a more restrained stride and continue in the same vein with the miniature Inflight, while Ensemble swings just as hard but much more adventurously. If you want to hear Tristano put his signature spin on the blues, check out their final number, Melancholy Stomp.

There are also eight tracks worth of Tristano with a longtime Crothers associate, drummer Roger Mancuso. When the piano finally joins in the swing shuffle Palo Alto Street, it’s vastly more spare yet regally Ellingtonian at the end. Tristano’s persistent, volleying attack is in top shape in the two’s second number, and later on in My Baby. Other than in the gritty, cascading Minor Pennies, the rest of the recordings don’t really engage either musician’s strengths, such as they are.

The recording quality is all over the place. Endings get cut off, and it would be nice to be able to hear more Tristano in the sax duets. Sometimes that’s the price of history.

June 9, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DWB: The Most Relevant, Hauntingly Evocative New Chamber Opera in Years

It’s hard to imagine a song cycle more apropos to our era than composer Susan Kander and soprano Roberta Gumbel’s chamber opera DWB (Driving While Black), streaming at Spotify. Gumbel’s lyrics draw on her own experiences and worries as the parent of a black adolescent who’s approaching driving age. Interspersed amid this mom’s reveries are real-life “bulletins” ranging from incidents of mundane everyday racism – Henry Louis Gates arrested for trying to enter his own home – to allusively macabre references to the murders of Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile.

Kander’s dynamic, sometimes kinetic, often haunting series of themes bring to mind Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock movie scores, Gumbel nimbly negotiating their dramatic twists and turns. With tense close harmonies and chiming arrangements, Messiaen and maybe George Crumb seem to be influences. The duo New Morse Code come across as a much larger ensemble: credit percussionist Michael Compitello, who plays a vast variety of instruments, most notably vibraphone and bells, alongside cellist Hannah Collins. Together they shift, often in the span of a few seconds, from a creepy, deep-space twinkle to a stalking, monstrous pulse and all-too-frequent evocations of gunfire.

What hits you right off the bat is that this narrator mom is smart. She frets about putting her infant in a backwards-facing car seat, because he won’t be able to see her, and she won’t be able to offer him a smile to comfort him. We get to watch him grow up: to Gumbel’s immense credit, there’s a lot of humor in the more familial moments, welcome relief from the relentless sinister outside world. The driver’s ed scene is particularly hilarious. Yet this doesn’t turn out to be a trouble-free childhood: Gumbel casts the kid as the son in a single-parent household, reflecting the reality that an inordinate percentage of people of color are forced to cope with.

Most of the numbers are over in less than a couple of minutes, a kaleidoscope of alternately fond and grisly images. A soaring, drifting lullaby, a slinky soul-tinged groove and a plaintive cello solo break up the furtive, often frantic sequences. One of the most chilling interludes involves not a police shooting but a near-miss. In a case of mistaken identity with a rare happy ending, the cops end up dumping the ex-suspect out of the police van in an unfamiliar part of town. He has to walk all the way home from there. Wait til you find out how old he is.

June 9, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment