Friday, May 09, 2008


Count Basie, Segue in C.
Lennie Tristano, C Minor Complex.

Exuberant thoughts in parallel keys:

This version of "Segue in C" was recorded by Count Basie and his orchestra at Birdland, NYC, on 27 July 1961, and then was shelved and forgotten until the mid-'90s, when it finally turned up on a wonderful, comprehensive, long out-of-print and unaffordable (are there any other kind?) Mosaic compilation.

Basie, who had had to disband his jazz orchestra in the lean postwar years, spent the '50s gradually emerging from exile, building up a new big band whose focus would be on clean, dazzling precision. "Yet he never lost his penchant for economy--his rhythms continued to reflect the wide open spaces, and he often held the full force of his band in reserve, like artillery." (Gary Giddins).

"Segue in C" was a blues written and arranged by Frank Wess, who played alto and tenor saxophone, along with the occasional flute, with Basie's orchestra. Basie, on piano, opens the piece, smiling but intent on writing a few lines in a clean, bright script. Budd Johnson, a ligament in the scheme of jazz anatomy (he started out with Earl Hines and Armstrong during the Depression and made records up through the '80s), offers the main riff on tenor saxophone. Another riff, even sweeter, appears later in the track, carried en masse by the horns.

Featuring, on trumpet, Thad Jones, Sonny Cohn, Lennie Johnson, Snooky Young; on trombone, Quentin Jackson, Henry Coker, Benny Powell; Marshall Royal (alto sax, clar.); Wess (alto sax, tenor sax, flute); Frank Foster, Johnson (tenor sax); Freddie Green (g); Eddie Jones (b) and Sonny Payne (d); On Basie At Birdland.

Lennie Tristano is jazz's equivalent to our cover star J.D. Salinger: he published little, influenced scores, and in his later years rarely left his house. Tristano, blinded as an infant due to the flu epidemic of 1919, became known as a master of performance (he played everything from C melody saxophone to drums) and composition, with a school of disciples including Lee Konitz and Billy Bauer. Tristano's most public phase, when he played with most of the key bebop players like Bird and Fats Navarro, had waned by the early '50s. A 1955 LP for Atlantic was followed by seven years of silence, interrupted only by the occasional odd performance (he played with Konitz in places like the Sing Song Room of New York's Confucius Restaurant). When Tristano died in 1978, only one of his albums was in print, and that was a Japanese import.

"C Minor Complex," recorded at home in the autumn of 1961, is one of Tristano's masterpieces--a work of virtuosity and dexterity, moving at ever-shifting rhythms. Released on the 1962 Atlantic LP The New Tristano; when it was eventually issued on CD as a two-fer compilation, Rhino weirdly decided to omit "C Minor Complex," which would be like reissuing Kind of Blue without "So What"; it's thankfully available on this imported version of The New Tristano.

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