In many respects, Lennie Tristano was unique among jazz pianists of his time. He tended to approach improvisation methodically as if he were solving a math problem. His long single-note runs were imaginative, his two hands flying apart as if they served separate humans. His contrapuntal group recordings roamed exciting new territory. Beboppers admired him – Charlie Parker was a friend and collaborator. He influenced Miles’ Birth of the Cool, other groundbreakers like Paul Bley. Yet to some, his approach felt dispassionate. Tristano was more concerned with standing apart, and that led him to teach his students the same resistance to imitation. When teaching became his focus, his recorded output suffered. Clocking in at 74 selections, Personal Recordings more than doubles the amount of Tristano recordings available. In the no-alternate-take-unturned world of Mosaic collections, this is an outlier. The tracks – a mash-up of studio recordings, live sessions, airchecks – are neither complete nor chronological. Instead, they are carefully curated by Tristano’s daughter from his archives, recorded for fun, and never intended to be heard by the general public. Grouped by style, we hear his early excursions into free jazz (not tied to any chords – Tristano was one of the movement’s first pioneers), playful blues-based group safaris, trio recordings from NYC’s Half Note, sessions with frequent collaborators Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, and a full disc of seemingly impossible solo piano creations. Throughout this material, Tristano shows breathtaking dexterity. It’s clear he could have forged a much bigger career for himself playing the music he loved. Instead, he was more than content to pass it on.
Review by Jeff McCord