/ ROEBKE / KOTCHE
A Valentine for Fred Katz
OLIVIA / RAULIN
Sept variations sur Lennie Tristano
Recorded tributes to earlier musicians are a jazz tradition about as old
as the music itself. Everything we know, for instance, about such early
jazz legends as trumpeter Buddy Bolden comes from others' versions of
their tunes, while you could fill up a small record shop just with discs
honoring Monk, Bird, Trane, Miles, Duke and Louis Armstrong.
Yet the CDs here avoid the neo cons' almost trademarked pantheon of great
jazzmen, instead recasting the music of one underappreciated one little
known jazz musician, who interestingly enough were born less than a month
apart in 1919. More appropriately, rather than slavish recreations, the
featured bands do what real improvisers do: twist and tweak the tunes
to their own ends and add some of their own compositions as a direct homage.
Sept Variations, co-directed by French pianists Stephan Oliva and François
Raulin, is an intense reorchestration of compositions by enigmatic pianist/composer/theorist/educator
Lennie Tristano (Chicago, March 1919 - New York, November 1978) for two
reeds, two pianos, two basses and guitar. Valentine, featuring the trio
of Chicago cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, is a more buoyant salute to the
work of Fred Katz (Brooklyn, February 1919 and who is still living in
California). Katz was arguably jazz's first complete cello master, exhibited
in his 1950s work with drummer Chico Hamilton.
Filled out by bassist Jason Roebke, an associate of cornettist Rob Mazurek
and reedman Ken Vandermark; plus Wilco and Jim O'Rourke group member drummer
Glenn Kotche, the Fred Lonberg-Holm trio approximates the unforced swing
of Hamilton's rhythm section of that time. Yet cognizant of Katz's more
varied experience and unbeatable craftsmanship -- he backed Ken Nordine
on the original Word Jazz LPs, wrote the score for Roger Corman's cult
black comedy, The Little Shop of Horrors, played piano for Lena Horne
and was on the music faculty of California State University at Northridge
-- the band goes beyond cool jazz and bebop when it plays.
Lonberg-Holm, whose playing situations have included rock and near ambient
music and whose associates range from microtonalists like German trumpeter
Axel Dörner and Boston saxist Bhob Rainey to reed wildmen like Swede
Mats Gustafsson and German Peter Brötzmann, can exhibit different
persona in different situations. Like Katz he knows how to us the cello's
natural mournfulness and its purity of tone to project the underlying
melancholy in the blues and on standards like "My Funny Valentine"
and "Autumn Leaves," but without getting maudlin. Alternately
the oscillating versatility of the cello's four strings, either arco or
pizzicato, means that it can become an outright double-stopping swinger
on Katz compositions such as "Pluck It" and "The Vidiot."
Except for an expansive arco sweep now and then, Roebke stays in character
on bass as the time-keeping bigger brother to the cello, while Kotche
steps out to decorate "The Squimp" with what sounds like bare
palms striking drumheads and chains clattering on garbage can lids. Lonberg-Holm's
own "Mystery Kat" slips right into the middle of Katz's tunes
without making waves.
Tristano's work is a whole other story. Possibly jazz's original cult-leader,
by the end of the 1940s the prickly pianist had gathered a group of like-minded
musicians around him -- most notably saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne
Marsh, guitarist Billy Bauer and pianist Sal Mosca -- and set out to redefine
the music. His harmonic language adapted some practices of contemporary
classical music including polytonal effects and extensive use of counterpoint.
Around that time he also recorded what some regard as the first Free Jazz
records with no fixed beat or preconceived ideas. But after he founded
one of the first jazz schools in 1951, Tristano performed and recorded
infrequently, preferring to disseminate his ideas through his students,
who in same extreme cases treated his every utterance as an unbreakable
Oliva and Raulin have adapted some of his ideas for this program of their
own originals and Tristano compositions and rejected others. Considering
that the New York pianist insisted that a rhythm section provide no more
than a foundation to support the music's melodic and harmonic substance,
but not interact with the front line, he demanded restraint from those
players and was particularly hard on drummers.
Raulin, who also writes dance, theatre and film projects and is a longtime
associate of French reedist Louis Sclavis, and Oliva, who is also part
of a trio with American drummer Paul Motian, have followed ideas through
by eliminating percussionists. Still, nether bassist on the date -- Frenchman
Bruno Chevillon, who has worked with both pianists, drummer Daniel Humair,
Motion and Sclavis; nor Briton Paul Rogers, who has a longtime association
with pianist Keith Tippet's Mujician and saxophonist Paul Dunmall, among
others -- is much of a background man.
Breaking the mould, however, Raulin, who recorded a dual piano album of
Tristano compositions in 1998, here give sufficient solo space to French
guitarist Marc Ducret, best-known for his highly-electrified, near metallic
work with American altoist Tim Berne. He's no laid-back Bauer. Additionally,
Marsh and Konitz, in his early role as a Tristano acolyte, aren't the
first reedmen that come to mind when hearing the sometimes squealing post-Free
Jazz work of woodwind players Laurent Dehors and Christophe Monniot. Dehors,
a clarinet, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinetist has worked with Sclavis
and leads a band with trombonist Yves Robert. Alto and baritone saxophonist
Monniot has played with Humair and is part of the jazz/funk/rock/rap band
Standard Tristano is most apparent on tunes such as "April,"
arranged by Raulin, where the rhythmic back up comes courtesy of unison
horns and pianos. It's characterized by a gorgeous glissando from Dehors
that solidifies in the coloratura register, though Lennie may have found
the tinkling piano a little corny. Raulin's arrangement of " 317
East 32nd," a Tristano composition is also sufficiently Lennie-like.
Here the cheery melody is again borne by the clarinet, with Monniot's
baritone saxophone tone floating beside it and decorating it as it unrolls.
Oliva's piano solo is finely shaped and light-fingered, backed at times
by what sounds like a reed choir. Oliva's take on "Turkish Mambo/Lennie's
Pennies", in contrast, features Ducret at his spikiest, mixing his
rock style with what sounds like prepared pianos and percussive bass work.
The themes are presented buoyantly enough, avoiding the emotionally detached
air for which Tristano was often chided.
The disc's one major misstep, however, is "East Ogan." Here
both keyboardists playing together are overly fussy, producing the sort
of faux classical pianisms than Tristano never taught. Meanwhile the baritone
sax that is alternately mellow and squeaking could be the antithesis of
what Tristano wanted from a horn player.
Much better is "Combined Line Painting," written by Oliva and
given a bal musette treatment as the pianos and horns intertwine to create
a giant accordion sound. With squeezebox sonics providing the underscore,
guitar plinks, trilling baritone sax screeches and whistling coloratura
clarinet tones move to the forefront. Using four hands to create what
Tristano did with double tracking, the two appear to be denting the keys
with feisty, rolling notes as the horns weave around one another at different
Even more impressively, the clearest idea of the concept comes on "Requiem,"
arranged by Raulin. Written and recorded by Tristano as a solo piano tribute
to Charlie Parker, Raulin reorchestrates it for stately piano and heraldic
horns. The arco basses join with the low-pitched reeds to advance the
melancholy theme, yet before it's reprised as a coda by the pianos, the
hornmen play a traditional funeral march.
Because of this solemnity of purpose and inventive rearrangements, the
French disc has a slight edge over the American one. Both are enjoyable.
And either could serve as an object lesson for younger musicians as how
to make another's music your own.
-- Ken Waxman
A Valentine for Fred Katz: 1. Lillian; 2. A Mood; 3. I Know; 4. I Know
II; 5. Pluck It; 6. The Vidiot; 7. My Funny Valentine; 8. Mystery Kat;
9. The Squimp; 10. The Sage; 11. Autumn Leaves
Track Listing Sept variations sur Lennie Tristano: 1. Tautology; 2. Avant
April; 3. April; 4. Combined Line Painting; 5. Gaspation; 6. Requiem;
7. Turkish Mambo/Lennie's Pennies; 8. East Ogan; 9. 317 East 32nd; 10.
A Valentine for Fred Katz: Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello; Jason Roebke, bass;
Glenn Kotche, drums
Personnel Sept variations sur Lennie Tristano: Laurent Dehors, clarinet,
bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet; Christophe Monniot, alto and baritone
saxophones; Marc Ducret, guitar; Stephan Oliva and François Raulin,
pianos; Bruno Chevillon and Paul Rogers, basses