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

Jazz Piano Icon Satoko Fujii Launches Her Ambitious 2018 Album-a-Month Project

What Wadada Leo Smith is to the trumpet, Satoko Fujii is to the piano: one of the most riveting improvisers to ever play the instrument. Like Smith, her themes can be epic and ambitious to the nth degree, yet her playing is meticulous and nuanced. Where a lot of musicians think in short phrases, Fujii thinks in paragraphs. Her most recent big band album, the harrowingly relevant Fukushima suite, topped the Best Albums of 2017 list here. Her latest project is to release an album a month this year to celebrate her sixtieth birthday. In person, beyond the sheer depth of her music, her indomitable joie de vivre, sense of wonder and daunting chops transcend preconceptions about age. The first release in the series is simply titled Satoko Fujii Solo.

Full disclosure: many of these albums seem to already be in the can. This first one was recorded live in concert in the fall of last year in Yawatahama, Japan. From the first magnificent, moody neoromantic chords of her eight-minute opening number, Inori, the way she distills them down to a simple, catchy three-chord riff and variations is a clinic in tunesmithing. Fujii is also a very site-specific pianist: she feels the room, figures out how long the reverb lasts,  then makes it an integral part of the music. She does that here with stabbing chords that build to a series of leaps and bounds. then a starlit outro. Chopin probably worked up a lot of his material this way.

This is a very otherworldly record, bristling with uneasy, insistently modal tangents. Don’t be fooled by the high drone that opens the second number, Geradeaus. That’s not a defect – that’s Fujii bowing and rustling around inside the piano. She finds a low pedal note, expands around it in an emphatic Keith Jarrett way, goes back inside and adjusts the timbre ever so slightly, then lightens a bit and dances around with uneasy chromatics. The few carefree flourishes turn out to be a red herring as this mood piece turns more savage and enigmatic.

As the twelve-minute Ninepin gets underway, Fujii juxtaposes muted gamelanesque taps on the strings…and what sounds like an electric sander on them. Slowly and methodically, she develops what could be a misterioso Indian wee-hours raga…but cuts off the pedal on each phrase suddenly – wherever this is going, we’re not there yet.  Some of it could be Satie, or Lennie Tristano, severity balanced against tongue-in-cheek humor.

The even longer Spring Storm is all about foreshadowing: stygian low torrents rise and then subside, give way to hints of a clearing, but that big black cloud is going to hang awhile! It’s Debussy’s garden in the hailstorm, but feeling the force of the elements row by row instead of the cloudburst simply shredding everything in its path.

In Gen Himmel, Fujii lets her Mompou-esque belltones linger, flits around under the lid, and cuts off phrases sharply, Intimations of gospel enter the picture, only to be elbowed out by funereal motives and restless close harmonies. The wryly titled Up Down Left Right begins as a funny study in how gremlins can pop up all over the keyboard, then morphs into twisted, bellicose quasi-boogie-woogie  Fujii closes the show by reinventing  Jimmy Giuffre’s Moonlight as a distantly menacing, saturnine elegy. “The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie,” Phil Ochs sang. Boy, do they ever.

Where does this rank in the immense Fujii catalog (over eighty albums)? Probably in the top ten, alongside her magical, mordant duo album with fellow pianist Myra Melford, for example.

Now where can you find this magical album…other than a Soundcloud page? Stay tuned!

March 2, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment