Jazz CD Reviews
Jimmy Giuffre – The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note [4 CD set] (2012) – CAM/Kepach Music
Published on June 25, 2012
Jimmy Giuffre – The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note [4 CD set] (2012) – CAM/Kepach Music BXS 1016, CD 1 (Dragonfly): 39:03, CD 2 (Quasar): 39:47, CD 3 (Liquid Dancers): 40:02, CD 4 (Conversations with a Goose): 50:36 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
(Dragonfly: Jimmy Giuffre – flute, bass, soprano and tenor saxophone, clarinet; Bob Nieske – electric bass; Pete Levin – Rhodes electric piano, Oberheim and Moog synthesizer; Randy Kaye – percussion, marimba. Quasar and Liquid Dancers: Giuffre – clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophone, flute, bass flute; Pete Levin – keyboards; Bob Nieske – bass; Randy Kaye – drums. Conversations with a Goose: Giuffre – clarinet, soprano saxophone; Paul Bley – piano; Steve Swallow – electric bass)
For many free jazz or avant-garde jazz fans, the Black Saint label (started in 1977) and its sister label, Soul Note (inaugurated in 1979), were important places to discover improvisational music outside of the norm. The catalog ran deep with contributions from Archie Shepp, Oliver Lake, the World Saxophone Quartet and numerous others, including Jimmy Giuffre (who passed away in 2008). The labels were acquired by Cam Jazz in 2008 and last year Cam Jazz began issuing a series of budget-priced box sets of particular artists, each disc in a set housed in an LP-style cardboard sleeve. In April of this year, the label brought out a 4-CD collection of Giuffre’s music, notably titled The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note, which gathers together three albums by the Jimmy Giuffre 4: Dragonfly (1983), Quasar (1985) and Liquid Dancers (1991); and a trio offering, Conversations with a Goose (1996), with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow.
Giuffre had a lengthy career which was never conventional. From the post World War II era and into the 1990s, he worked in more than a few jazz genres, with lots of artists, ranging from Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich and Woody Herman in the 1940s to Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars and Shorty Roger’s Giants in the 1950s and founded his own group in the early 1960s. While most fans probably are fond of his cool jazz projects and his mainstream output, Giuffre was also an innovative performer who developed methods of jazz which accepted free (or at least freer) interplay between players, some of which foresaw later forms of free improvisation. Two crucial albums which anticipated free jazz were Fusion (1961) and Thesis (1962) with bassist Swallow and pianist Bley, which included alternating modes, improvisation and complex rhythms, but done with Giuffre’s characteristic approach to texture and an assertion on subtlety and open space. This was free jazz with nuances, not the blow fests favored by those influenced by bop, nor the storming atonality utilized by others in the avant-garde guard. When released in 1996, Conversations with a Goose was a welcome return to both the same trio and format used in the early ‘60s, with some minor tweaks, including Swallow’s switch to electric bass. Most of the 13 tracks are concise, an antithesis to most free jazz jams, and yet each has an impressive amount of creative interaction. Several cuts have a meditative, introspective trait, where Giuffre’s reeds bend or wind around the keyboards. There is often a twisting feel of warmth, but without sacrificing a sensitive adventurousness. Sometimes there is a muted, quiet focus, such as during Swallow’s bass solo excursion “Campfire” (which has a Jim Hall mannerism) or on the unobtrusively exploratory “White Peaks.”
The three quartet albums have a different demeanor. Dragonfly is obviously shaped by 1970s and 1980s electric fusion. There is a certain Weather Report or Return to Forever-like affect to some cuts. Giuffre’s seven original compositions (plus a cover of the standard “Stella by Starlight”) show a knotty but accessible precision and ample enthusiasm. Drummer Randy Kaye and electric bassist Bob Nieske create a vibrant rhythmic foundation, while keyboardist Pete Levin (on Rhodes electric piano and synth) is a resolute accompanist and soloist. Giuffre expands his arsenal with flute, bass flute, clarinet and both soprano and tenor sax. Levin’s keyboards date the music, but no worse than other recordings from the same decade. Giuffre’s occasionally shadowy timbre and his style of improvising, which incorporates elements of swing into his uninhibited design, provide a unique unconventionality which is pure Giuffre. This is borne out on the somber “Moonlight” as well as a thoroughly modern interpretation of “Stella by Starlight.” Quasar employs the same lineup with equivalent results. Although the proceedings now and again are overtly electronic due to Levin’s various keyboards (he sometimes echoes Joe Zawinul), the material (credited to different band members) has a reflective consideration representative of Giuffre’s relaxed but restless individuality. The slightly jumpy “Frog Legs” has a skewed sway. “Phantom” has a light funk undertone reminiscent of Steps Ahead, although expressed within a fairly free inventive fashion. “Wolf Soup,” “Night Ride” and other pieces share comparable attributes, with discerning interchanges between sax and keyboards. Liquid Dancers (released in 1991 but recorded in 1989) continues the loose but also vital quartet communication found on the other foursome records. Nieske’s electric bass rhythms and Kaye’s always cadenced drums keep an easy but fluctuating swing, while Levin’s keyboards stretch out on an array of electronic sounds and effects. Although there is a confident approachability, the quartet often drifts into fascinating areas, but never overly long or to the detriment of listeners who are not free jazz aficionados. These four albums represent a singular sound and style for Giuffre: at times bold and to varying degrees, beyond the mainstream. Those who are familiar with Giuffre’s more popular outings may not find these four projects appealing, but for those who want to dig deeper into Giuffre’s extensive jazz background, this a fine place to stop and listen.
CD 1: Dragonfly; Cool; In Between; Moonlight; J to J; Sad Truth; Stella by Starlight; Squirrels.
CD 2: Quasar; Frog Legs; Phantom; Spirits; Wolf Soup; Shadows; 2nd Step; Night Ride.
CD 3: Liquid Dancers; Koko-Nut; Runnin’ from the Rain; I Would; Move with the Times; Subway; Vision; The Teacher; If I Was
CD 4: Conversations with a Goose; The Flock Is In; Echo through the Canyon; Three Ducks; Watchin’ the River; Campfire; Cobra; Among the High Rocks; White Peaks; Calls in the Night; Lonely Days; Jungle Critters; Restless