Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Clarinets - Jimmy Guiffre

As I already mentioned in the 'pre-blog' talk, I'm not doing an in depth study of each clarinetist, or all of their albums, just some that I really liked and why. These are also just brief thoughts and reflections, which means if you're really intrigued then you should go out and look up these CDs/LPs. In some cases there is material laying around the net with live 'bootlegged' concerts, and I suggest that you also look these up as it's often very interesting stuff - not only for clarinetists - and is often material that has never been previously published, or edited in CD/LP form. BE CAREFUL not to download in print CDs as this is .........!

Jimmy Giuffre, my first choice of someone to write about when talking about clarinetists. I think that along with Artie Shaw, Jimmy Giuffre is the clarinetist that inspired me to take the clarinet more seriously. Although Chris Speed and Don Byron (as already mentioned) were clarinetists that made me aware of the instrument and it's possibilities (away from more traditional roles), it was Giuffre who somehow looms above all modern jazz clarinetists as a role model of modernity. I suspect that Tony Scott might be another of these icons. But what makes Giuffre so interesting was his move towards American folk music and his ability to effectively integrate this into an original jazz form. And more importantly his developments in third stream writing, leading eventually to the great trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, that combined all of these elements (including) - atonality, free improvisation, folk melody, jazz harmony, free flowing time/pulse, etc. Along with this Jimmy Giuffre also possessed good technique, intonation and a beautiful round (and slight breathy) sound on his instrument. Interestingly enough he never moved (not that I know) onto the bass clarinet, although as followers of Giuffre will already know he also played earlier in his career tenor and baritone sax, and later on soprano sax also.

Here's a few remarks (*) on a couple of the albums that have influenced me.

The Jimmy Giuffre 3 (1957)
What a great record with the well known tune The Train and the River used in the film Jazz on a Summers Day. What I so enjoy about this record is the approach to combining jazz and Americana folk music together. I'm sure that Bill Frisell must have listened to this record many times, and especially due to the presence of Jim Hall. The titles themselves - The Crawdad Suite, The Green Country (New England Mood), Voodoo - evoke America in the same way that Bill Frisell's music does (especially the album This Land). At this stage Jimmy still plays Tenor, Baritone and Clarinet. I particularly like the piece called Two Kinds of Blues with the almost haunting clarinet melody which so lonesome in it's sound/melody. The trio at this stage was Jim Hall, Ralph Peña on bass and of course Jimmy as mentioned.

Piece for Clarinet and Strings/Mobiles (1959).
A strange record that was made for Verve Records in 1959. I discovered this album as part of the Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre CD reissue. It was a very nice surprise to hear Giuffre in this context with a string orchestra - of high quality. The pretext for the two compositions is quite simple Piece for Clarinet and Strings is written and Mobiles is improvised. In both cases they use the Südwestfunk Orchestra of Baden-Baden, conducted by Wolfram Röhrig, as you can imagine the recording is excellent and the music really benefits from this. The first piece is reminiscent of Bartok meets Copland and as the liner notes say ....... ' the third movement swings in a way Copland couldn't manage. The music is of course what nowadays is called Third Stream.

Free Fall (1962)
This is the third and final (official) album in the infamous trio's discography - Paul Bley/piano, Steve Swallow/bass and JG/ clarinet (only). I say infamous to seperate them from the other trio formations of 1) Jim Hall/guitar, Ralph Peña/bass, JG/clarinet etc & 2) Jim Hall/guitar, Bob Brookmeyer/trombone & JG/clarinet etc. This is 'the' album that as one critic said (something like) 'absolutely nobody was ready for this', and it's kind of true. What's also wonderful is the blend of solo clarinet pieces, trios and duos so that the album has a t times an almost suite like feeling. Steve Swallow explained how they would rehearse ( playing and also discussing) regularly trying out ways of playing, asking questions such as - "how can we play at a given rate of speed, but without a fixed tempo? For how long is it possible to improvise without reference to a tonic pitch?". The whole album is way ahead of it's time (1962) and was the end of the trio ...... again Steve Swallow said "we disbanded on the night we each made 35 cents". The music was far too advanced for that time and even now it still sounds modern.

Other albums that I also love being :
The Easy Way - Jimmy Giuffre 3 ("The three of us fell into a oneness which allowed the music to roll out naturally." Jimmy Giuffre wrote of this 1959 session with Ray Brown on bass!).
Fusion and Thesis - Jimmy Giuffre Trio (nowadays reissued on a double ECM CD, but originally two albums 1961).
Emphasis Stuttgart and Flight Bremen (Wonderful live recordings of the concert tour of the 'infamous' trios tour of Europe in 1961, nowadays a double CD on HatHut).

* = These little articles are not about the complete discography just the ones that have influenced me. Secondly, I don't posses all the CDs/LPs of these artists and being very lazy probably wouldn't have time to write about all the recordings.
** Intersting article on All About Jazz here.
*** A really nice appreciation - blog posting - about discovering Jimmy Giuffre here.

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