Larry Bluth: Never More Here

Tristano is sometimes cited as a strong influence, via Sal Mosca, on the late pianist but he was an intriguing stylist in his own right

2007

Pianist Larry Bluth, who died in 2020, studied with Lennie Tristano student Sal Mosca for some years. He didn’t receive the recognition he deserved, and his recorded output, till now, was just three albums for the Zinnia label in the 1990s, with bassist Don Messina and drummer Bill Chattin. But he was a real musician’s musician, and a passionate educator.

This posthumous release, with the same personnel as the Zinnia albums, shows his very considerable talent and originality. When I correspond by email with Don Messina and describe the pianist as “a leading member of the Lennie Tristano school”, he aptly replies: “I’m not sure if he thought of himself as that . . . but if that means being influenced by Prez, Bird, Bud, Fats Navarro, Warne, and Charlie Christian as well as Lennie and Sal Mosca – then maybe he was.”

The album features live performances by the Larry Bluth Trio from 1996 and 2001. Jordi Pujol at Fresh Sound Records releases them along with Sal Mosca’s wonderful For Lennie Tristano, Solo Piano 1970 & 1997. The programme consists of standards and originals, and there’s a vivid sense of spontaneity. As Messina writes in his eloquent liner notes, Larry Bluth’s approach to jazz “was all about listening to each other, and playing with a feeling that was intense, yet light and swinging.”

This is a totally persuasive description, evident from the opening track, Charlie Parker’s Klactoveedsedstene. This is listed on Wikipedia as a contrafact on Perdido (A section) and Lady Be Good (B section). But Messina tells me that they play just the changes of Perdido – “Maybe Larry’s changes are different?”

There’s a plangent ballad, A Ghost Of A Chance, and an ingenious mid-tempo Yesterdays. Riverdale is – I assume – a spontaneous improvisation by the trio, and Larry’s Line is by Bluth. The album ends with a version of Lee Konitz’s Sound-Lee that plunges increasingly into far-out territory while remaining tonal and groove-based.

Bluth has clear affinities with the Tristano soundworld, but he’s an intriguing stylist, his solos full of unexpected turns and angular reminiscences. Never More Here is a superb release and an excellent memorial to a fine musician. 

Discography
Klactoveedsedstene; Sweet And Lovely; Sippin’ At Bell’s; A Ghost Of A Chance; Yesterdays; Riverdale; Larry’s Line; These Foolish Things; Sound-Lee (51.37)
Bluth (p); Don Messina (b); Bill Chattin (d). Teaneck, NJ, July 2001 and NYC, October 1996.
Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD5068