(Note: video is of track taken from Giuffre’s ‘Free Fall’ album.)
From the same dusty archives that bore fruit with a newly discovered live Bill Evans document from 1968 come extremely rare recordings of Jimmy Giuffre during an extended period of time when he wasn’t making any records. New York Concerts — on sale June 10, 2104 from Elemental Music — makes it clear that this dearth of any released output for so long didn’t mean he quit making bold music.
But first, a little background …
Multi-reedist Giuffre had started out in big band — he wrote “Four Brothers” that became a hit for Woody Herman in the late 40s, but before long he had migrated over to small groups and by 1956 was leading his own. From the start, Giuffre preferred unconventional formats that dispensed with drums; his original Jimmy Giuffre 3 group featured guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ralph Pena. With the unconventional combos came increasingly unconventional music and by the time Free Fall came out in 1962 with Paul Bley on piano and Steve Swallow on bass, his music was so far out beyond even the frontier established by Ornette Coleman and the like, the Columbia record label promptly dropped him and his band broke up from lack of interest. Even in avant-garde circles, they weren’t ready for this yet, and it would be another nine years before Giuffre would re-emerge with another record.
Giuffre stayed busy during this lost decade, though, and by 1964 had put together another trio, this time with Barre Phillips on bass and Don Friedman manning the piano, and this ensemble toured Europe in the early part of 1965. It was also during that time that Giuffre for some reason stopped playing the clarinet exclusively and played tenor saxophone, too. And then, after the tour, he enlisted a drummer, Joe Chambers. This is the lineup that the nineteen year old head of the jazz department of Columbia University’s radio station captured in May.
George Klabin, the teenaged jazzbo, captured that group in an empty auditorium using a two-track tape recorder, a 4-input mixer and each musician individually miked up, a performance to be played only once on his jazz radio program.
With Giuffre now oddly using “normal” instrumentation and having been driven underground by going so far outside, you’d think he might have scaled back his ambitions, but in fact the opposite is true. These six performances of all Giuffre compositions go beyond what he did on Free Fall, taking his strategy of counterpoint, pointillistic harmony, and open, rootless playing to its logical extreme. The only thing traditional found here is the bread-and-butter head-variations-head progression of the songs, but Giuffre had so carefully crafted the roles of each player and how each part lapped over each other, it becomes nearly impossible at times to distinguish a “head” from a “variation.”
Giuffre didn’t really adapt his music with the introduction of a drummer; Chambers had to find his own place in it, but the man who right around this time appeared on out-jazz records by Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson had already figured out how to fit in, in Chambers’ own words, by “break(ing) up the time, subdividing and superimposing but still in tempo.” Phillips had developed a close affinity with Giuffre, who lived closed by him, and had by this time made his bass an extension of Giuffre’s horn. Friedman, known much more as a post-bop pianist, had more than enough understanding of advanced harmonics to fulfill the leader’s vision.
Friedman gives definition to “Syncopate,” and plays free similar to Paul Bley, probably because both have come up in bebop. After solos by all, three-way improvisation commences — a common trait across this 2 CD set — and it’s striking how democratic and uncluttered it sounds. Throughout the set, the use of space and the suspension of time are striking features as the four build on an idea, bring it to a natural conclusion and regroup to embark on another variation through integrated improvisation. “Cry, Want” stands out for Giuffre’s beautiful opening statement from his clarinet. The rest of the band counter with a dark resonance, and Giuffre is eventually lured over to their side, still playing with a pure tonality but now in weeping expressions. After the group breaks down into total abstraction they regroup into something resembling a slow, drawn-out blues.
The trio disc is ordered as disc one, but it was actually recorded a few months later by Klabin in a true concert setting during the New York Festival of The Avant Garde. By this time, the Jimmy Giuffre 4 had been sheared back down to the Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Friedman’s exit and Richard Davis replacing Phillips at bass. While Giuffre never strayed from his concept, these changes had a pretty significant impact on the music. Again beginning with “Syncopate,” Davis fills in the void left behind by a lack of piano. His sliding notes make him stand out right away from Phillips and Giuffre, on tenor sax, mixes abstracts noises and squawks with swing expressions.
“Crossroads” is the only song over this entire release that’s not Giuffre’s — it’s Ornette Coleman’s — and it’s revealing in how one major champion of “the new thing in jazz” interprets the other. Giuffre only conjures up Coleman in the introductory head, and then makes it his own. Atonal and microtonal, the sounds he emits from his clarinet are unfamiliar to the instrument. “Drive” is an atonal blues that quickly deconstructs. Davis follows down a path blazed by Giuffre’s sax and swing breaks out from Chambers’ kit, but the other two play mostly free. The song breaks down again into some real odd sounds, as Davis makes high end saws with his bow and Giuffre is able to mimic those sounds with his sax, creating this really eerie sonority.
One of the most exciting finds of lost jazz recordings in recent years along with Wes Montgomery’s Echoes of Indiana Avenue, New York Concerts confirms Giuffre’s foresight and insight within the realm of free jazz just as the music was beginning to race out to the edge of what was possible. Jimmy Giuffre was there all along, but few were truly aware of that.