Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Jimmy Giuffre, Free Fall

Jimmy Giuffre, Free Falli'd been looking for this CD a long time, and finally found it when i went out to cdepot in college park with dan, mike and mark the friday before xmas. i had a feeling it was going to be good, but i was not prepared for how fresh and amazing it truly is -- especially given that it was recorded over 40 years ago.

giuffre was a texas multireed player, composer and arranger who worked in the woody herman bands of the mid-to-late 1940s. in the early fifties he played with a variety of west coast cool outfits, and by the mid-fifties he was one-upping gerry mulligan's pianoless quartets in his series of pianoless and percussionless trios for atlantic records. he'd alternate between clarinet, tenor sax and baritone sax while his bandmates played upright bass and trombone (bob brookmeyer) or guitar (jim hall). he combined a love for folk melodies ("the train and the river" was the opening track for the great documentary film on the 1975 newport jazz festival, "jazz on a summer's day") with more challenging explorations reminiscent of modern composition.

the trios finally settled into a lineup with giuffre playing exclusively clarinet, paul bley on piano and steve swallow on bass. in 1961 they cut two pioneering LPs for the verve label, Fusion and Thesis (subsequently reissued by ECM as the 2CD set 1961). Apparently the producers at verve were not too pleased with the increasingly exploratory nature of giuffre's music and, as wonderful as those two recordings are, verve was reining the group in during those sessions. for the 1962 Free Fall recordings, however, columbia producer teo macero gave the group free rein.

a series of clarinet solos, clarinet + bass duets, and full trio numbers, this recording offers a range of options for improvisation that owes nothing whatsoever to bop or the "new thing" energy music that is just on jazz's horizon. think about jazz context for this music, what else was going on in the last half of 1962. (the recording dates for the Free Fall sessions are july 9, october 10 and november 1, 1962.)

* it's been nearly a year since cecil taylor made his Into the Hot recordings (october 10, 1961) which, for all their consolidation of taylor's increasingly poweful idiom, still remain pretty firmly rooted within the rhythmic strictures of bop; taylor is essentially washing dishes at this point and will not get another recording opportunity for another four years.

* ornette coleman self-finances his town hall concert (december 21, 1962), an artistic success that also demonstrated his first efforts in modern composition, but a financial failure; coleman will not record or gig again for three years.

* john coltrane is just embarking upon his great impulse recordings

* albert ayler is in scandanavia gigging for relatively sympathetic audiences but for musicians who are still working in a bop idiom

* sun ra has relocated his arkestra to the east village and otherwise continuing to operate below the radar

clearly nothing in this context will serve as a precedent for what giuffre's trio was able to do on these records. his unaccompanied clarinet solos could serve as a roadmap for steve lacy's solo soprano sax work 10 years later, while the use of silence might be seen going back to monk and ahead a few years to the AACM. it still has reverberations today, particularly in the european improv scene which has been quicker to recognize giuffre's work. in the new liner notes to this recording, bassist steve swallow writes of the group's return to the states after touring europe in 1961-1962: "Shortly after our return to New York, we began a residency in a coffee house on Bleecker Street, playing for whatever money was collected at the door. We disbanded on a night we each made 35 cents."

giuffre did not record or gig again for ten years.

No comments: