The New Tristano – Downbeat 1962

THE NEW TRISTANO - Atlantic 1357: Becoming; C Minor Complex; You Don't Know What Love Is; Deliberation; Scenes and Variations-Carol, Tania, Bud; Love Lines; G Minor Complex.

Personnel:Tristano, piano.

Rating: * * * * *


This album, Tristano's first since 1955, is a milestone in jazz piano history.  Although he has not received much publicity recently, he, along with Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, ranks at the top of the list of modern jazz pianists.

Tristano's great knowledge of harmony, i.e. his brilliant use of substitute and passing chords and exploration of the upper intervals of chords, is recognized by most critics and musicians.  Unaccountably, however, some persons refuse to see that he has made great strides in the area of rhythm also.  In fact, he is as interesting rhythmically as harmonically, as this album surely demonstrates. (Bill Evans evidently has learned much from the subtle way in which Tristano shifts accents.)

Tristano's work here differs from his playing in the 1940s in several ways: his touch is more percussive, and he uses the lower register more.  Perhaps because of this, the over-all effect of his solos is more personal than it often used to be.

The way in which he uses his left hand is highly unusual.  On most tracks he plays a chord on almost every beat, creating a walking bass line, instead of comping as would most modern pianists.  The reason probably has something to do with the dissatisfaction he has expressed with many bassists and drummers.  Here, his left hand takes over the function normally carried out by the bass.  This seems to be a valid approach; certainly he creates some interesting bass lines.

In his excellent liner notes, Barry Ulanov emphasizes two devices Tristano uses a great deal.  The first is a series of triplets to which he adds a note or notes, borrowing from the following triplet.  By doing this he builds great tension, which is usually released with extremely long melodic lines.

Another technique Tristano uses brilliantly is setting time against time, contrasting 514, 3/8, 12/8, etc., against the steady 4/4 in his left hand.  He had experimented with this before, i.e. Turkish Mambo, using multiple recording, but here, on a track like Tania, he builds much more.  The changing time signatures are not only a clever novelty, but they also are a means to an end, the end being the creation of great alternating waves of tension and relaxation.

Most of the chord sequences Tristano improvises on here are simple: Scenes and Variations is based on Melancholy Baby, Deliberation on Indiana, and Becoming on What Is This Thing Called Love?  C Minor Comp!ex is reminiscent of the A section of Thing Called Love.  It doesn't have a bridge.  Love Lines is Foolin' Myself, the Billie Holiday-Lester Young classic.

Becoming is notable for Tristano's free conception of tempo.  He begins playing very deliberately in a medium tempo and employing right-hand chords liberally.  Halfway through the track he goes into an out-of-tempo interlude, back into the medium tempo, and finishes with long single-notc lines at a medium-fast pace.

There is more harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic richness on Deliberation than most jazzmen-even good ones-produce on 10 LPs.  Tristano's phrases cut through bar line barriers as though they don't, exist. 

Carol is played almost entirely out of tempo.  This is a fine example of the way Tristano employs substitute and passing chords.

On Bud, Tristano does not use his left hand for rhythmic accompaniment but still swings tremendously.  He plays almost exclusively in the lower register, attacking the keys furiously and shifting accents like a madman.

Another high spot is the very poignant last 16 bars of the first chorus on Love Lines.  Few persons associate Tristano with romanticism, but it occasionally comes to the surface.

I guess it would be an understatement to say that I recommend this album highly.  Like some of the musicians who take Leonard Feather's Blindfold Test say, "Give this all the stars in the sky." (Harvey Pekar)

(Downbeat, June 7, 1962)


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