CD1 - Emphasis, Stuttgart 1961 CD 595-1
recorded November 7, 1961 at Mozartsaal, Liederhalle Stuttgart/Germany
CD2 - Flight, Bremen 1961 CD 595-2
recorded November 23, 1961 at Sendesaal Radio Bremen/Germany
At a time when the leading edge of mainstream jazz was pulling through modal jazz into hard bop, Jimmy Giuffre was headed in another direction. His early trios were simultaneously polite and experimental, an unusual combination that revealed both his cool roots and his fearlessness in stepping over the cliff. Nowhere were these qualities more evident than on his early-'60s trio records alongside pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow.
Titles like Free Fall and Flight explicity emphasized his steps away from safety, while Thesis and Fusion spotlighted the more intellectual aspects of his work. In the presence of collaborators who understood how to take compositions far beyond their formal structure, he threw away "arrangement," ablated conventional ideas of "accompaniment," and redefined "solos." And since this particular trio (as well as others around the same time) lacked a drummer, time became a piece of putty to be stretched and squeezed at will. With some effort you can imagine how a drummer might have sounded, but almost none-if any-of Giuffre's contemporaries could have pulled it off.
All that is visible on these two live records from November of 1961 which originally appeared on Hat Hut almost a decade ago and have now been reissued in a double set. They offer an expanded opportunity to hear the Giuffre/Bley/Swallow trio to run wild (very politely, of course) in a concert setting. And since they were recorded only two weeks apart, they combine to form an extended snapshot of a creative nucleus in action.
Paul Bley has always been oriented toward "classical" playing, both in his construction (particularly phrasing) and in his touch, which is generally precise and direct. Echoes of '50s experimentation by the new wave of classical composers appear in his "preparation" of his instrument to yield buzzing timbres, which he combines with subtle blues accents on "Emphasis," for example.
Giuffre's playing (only on clarinet) mostly hovers in the mid to high range of the instrument, using higher frequencies to add emphasis and float through bird-like flutters. Many times throughout these two hours of performance his playing recalls efforts decades later by Michael Moore-light and flowing, always lyrical, adopting drama through breath. And perhaps most significantly, both players prefer phrasing that elasticizes time.
The conversations between the clarinet and piano constitute the majority of the interest and drama in the music, since Bley and Giuffre feel no hesitation dancing around each other's lines. Bley balances out the smoothness of the clarinetist's playing by emphasizing more staccato figures, irregularly spaced and often harmonically obtuse. Unfortunately Steve Swallow, here on the acoustic bass rather than his electric axe of late, is relatively low in the mix, so you have to listen to appreciate the way he introduces depth and heaps of tiny intervals to thicken up the music.
Composition as such is a poorly defined concept with Giuffre's groups, but these relatively short pieces (averaging about five minutes) each have their own twist and character. No jump cuts or dramatic postmodern switches here. Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria" has a mournful aura, nearly dirge-like in its darkness. Paul Bley's "Carla" is by far the noisiest, most dissonant, and irregular piece on the record. Steve Swallow gets a chance to come to the foreground on "That's True, That's True," and Giuffre fully arranges most of the very brief "Suite for Germany."
This particular trio was fairly well documented on five records from 1961-62. These two live discs complement the studio versions in their raw spontaneity and warmth, and they are a fine place to start. But in the end you?d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite, which is a tribute to the high standards these three players maintained.
This is the second recital of this band (Jimmy Giuffre, clarinet, Paul Bley, piano, Steve Swallow, bass) in Europe that has been brought out by HatART. It adds immeasurably to the documentation of a group that was, for all its innovation, sadly under-recorded. Many of the tunes here take the studio versions of material the trio recorded for Verve on two albums, Emphasis and Fusion, and extrapolate this material into the true vision of freedom the trio shared, without losing sight of the fact that this was a band. One of the most stellar examples of this is on the tune "Emphasis," where Giuffre uses a basic 12-bar blues and disguises it under a complex method of extrapolating improvisation from strange intervallic equations and the inversion of already abstruse melodic shapes. Add to this that, without a drummer, each member was responsible for being his own rhythm section, and you have tonalities and colors popping out all over the place, focused on the feeling of the blues yet without its trappings. The version of Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria" is a thing of rare beauty here, as Giuffre takes the composer's gorgeously simple melody and stretches its tempo to a slow breaking point. Timbral development and atonal fixtures by Paul Bley lend a bluer aspect to the tune than was originally intended in the composition, but it nevertheless avoids becoming either a blues or a sideshow version of a show tune, remaining firmly a gorgeous ballad with nuanced intervals where atonal figures are bled gradually into shimmering glissandos. The set closes with Giuffre's "Cry, Want," again a tune that begins with a rounded blues wail, yet becomes an otherworldly vehicle for group articulation in improvisation. Harmonically, Bley stretches every bit of the tune's structure to the point of fissure. His impetus for changing the skeletal frame is not lost on Swallow, who creates a complex rhythmic figure in counterpoint; Giuffre does his best to hold on, though he too is seduced by the new modular figures of Bley. This is the sound of a trio truly at work in discovering itself in the moment of creation, and it is breathtaking. This may be the finest thing the trio ever recorded and, as a performance, it is even better than the concert captured on Flight, Bremen 1961 as well.
-Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)