Revisiting and reliving Tristano
Jason Scott can’t get away from the music of Lennie Tristano, and it’s a good thing. The gigs on which he performs the piano master’s compositions, as he did on Monday night, are just as much entertaining history lessons as they are a couple sets of interesting and not often heard jazz.
Jason Scott can’t get away from the music of Lennie Tristano, and it’s a good thing. The gigs on which he performs the piano master’s compositions are just as much entertaining history lessons as they are a couple sets of interesting and not often heard jazz. In a way, Scott is keeping a part of jazz from the 40s and 50s alive, reminding us all that there was more going on in the bebop movement of the late 1940s than just Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
In November of last year, the saxophonist took his transcriptions of Tristano — whose band usually included influential saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh — to the stage, and on Monday night at The Camel, he did the same. Scott has a separate quintet that performs his originals, but finds it important to remember this material. “I keep going back to it,” he said between sets, “because I feel like I get a lot out of it. If people take the time to listen to it and really check it out, they’re going to hear something that they haven’t heard before.” While the complexities of bebop were impressive for the time and continue to be models for improvisation, this music has more of an awing effect as it often sounds just as modern as something you might hear being created today.
A perfect example of this, the band started with Tristano’s “WOW.” Rather than embodying the frenetic bounciness and perpetual forward momentum of bebop, there was more reserved elation, like an overjoyed person playing it cool.
This carried forward into “317 East 32nd Street” (a meeting place and jam session spot for Tristano, Marsh, and the others). A west coast relaxed vibe permeated, even as Tristano’s signature melodic style stated the theme. Scott Burton’s guitar chunked away a la Billy Bauer and bassist Cameron Ralston and drummer Russ Helm swung relaxedly.
Following a bright solo by Scott on “Smog Eyes” (or “Small Guys,” as the band leader joked), alto saxophonist Rick Rieger showed his excellent sense of contrast, prompting the audience to breathe easily. It was a send off of sorts for Rieger, who will be relocating soon to South Korea in the armed forces.
Each piece of the first set brought something different: Scott’s solo on “Lennie’s Pennies” showed great continuity while Helm added variety with hints of Tony Williams and not far removed from the bebop masters; Tchaikovsky’s “Opus 42” sounded like Christmas time, exuding more celebration and merriment than sadness despite the slow bluesy tempo; and Bach’s short “Fugue in D minor” between saxophones and guitar stood out as the oddball. It’s amazing, Scott pointed out, that these musicians occasionally played this kind of material — particularly the Bach — on 52nd Street in jazz’s heyday while bebop skills were being honed across the street and next door.
Tristano, Konitz, and Marsh, Scott explained, “were trying to do the same thing that Parker and Gillespie were trying to do, which was basically reinvent music at the time. This is like standard jazz music done with a twist. These guys were ahead of their time, and I feel like the music today is just as fresh as it’s ever been.”
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