Selection 1: Jesus Maria
Selection 2: Scootin’ about
Selection 3: Carla
Jimmy Giuffre (clarinet) Paul Bley (piano) Steve Swallow (bass): original releases on Verve:
MGV 8397 The Jimmy Giuffre 3 – Fusion – recorded Olmstead Sound Studios, NYC, March 3, 1961
V/V6 8402 The Jimmy Giuffre 3 – Thesis – recorded Olmstead Sound Studios, NYC, August 4, 1961
I was about to draft a long and piercing analysis of this haunting iconic work, when I found AllMusic had already anticipated my every insight, so I will step back and let AllMusic’s Thom Jurek walk you through the finer points:
“This reissue of Fusion and Thesis, the two albums the new Jimmy Giuffre 3 made in 1961, prior to their breakthrough and breakup in 1962, is nothing short of a revelation musically. Originally produced by Creed Taylor, who was still respectable back then, the two LPs have been complete remixed and remastered by ECM proprietor and chief producer Manfred Eicher and Jean Philippe Allard and contain complete material from both sessions resulting in one new track on Fusion and three more on Thesis.
The music is Giuffre at his finest — at that point, finding a language with his two collaborators, pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow (who hadn’t made the permanent switch to electric then) — that was outside even the avant-garde at the time, yet in the tradition enough for some listeners and critics to be able to hold onto as modern jazz.
Both recordings make use of a profound use of subtlety in gesture — this is more true of Giuffre and Bley than Swallow, but without a drummer, the guy had a tough gig to hold down — and a creative use of space, one that allowed for a free contrapuntal interplay between musicians while keeping their distance in order to keep the music in front of them. In other words, space was used as a way to communicate what not to do rather than what to play.
While most improvisations did stick to ideas based on chord changes, there are moments, many of them on Thesis, where the formal structures slipped into the ether and gave way to an improvisation that used silence as a cue to innovate and improvise… The use of this space is brought to light in the Eicher/Allard remix which highlights and accents the physical distances the three men were playing from one another in the studio.
While Fusion features primarily the compositions of Giuffre in his style of accenting counterpoint á la Debussy and Milhaud within a melodic framework, and making the counterpoint and its resultant interaction with other players the still point of harmonic invention… There are no corners in this music, no jagged edges, everything is rounded off, if not smooth, then at least warm — no matter how complex the music becomes it has no air of academic elitism or dry didacticism about it, the emotions are transparent and expressed with understatement and grace.
This reissue is perhaps, along with Free Fall, one of the most essential documents regarding the other side of early-’60s jazz. Giuffre falls clearly between the cracks of the then emergent avant-guardists like Coltrane’s quartet, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette’s band, and the hard boppers like Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Hank Mobley, and Horace Parlan. Giuffre didn’t straddle fences; on Fusion and Thesis, he just walked through them.
Jimmy Guiffre, like Eric Dolphy, is emerging (to me at least) as one of the less-recognised original creative figures of modern jazz (not at LJC of course). Once you get past investor-collector-lust for 1500-series Blue Notes it is good to seek out stimulating thought-provoking interesting music on vintage vinyl. There is plenty more of that to be found, if you know where to look, or are willing to search.
The first selection Jesus Maria is one I return to. It is all-but “tempo-less” , more like half-speed, time suspended, it constantly finds you pulling back on the accelerator, to stay with the stately pace, with its fragments of melody half-launched only to peter out, and a rigid determination to remain “slow”. It maddeningly reminds me of a composition I can’t quite put my finger to. As you play and replay tracks, some dig their claws into your consciousness, others evaporate. Here’s the thing, your favourites today will change, as this music gets under your skin.
The gatefold is not quite Francis Wolff photography, but still good. ECM use the darkroom trademark film camera authenticity – file off the edges of the enlarger negative carrier, which increases the printed picture area by a few millimetres to include the film strip edge (sometimes the film brand) and part of the film sprocket guide holes, together with the picture. It burns in to give a ragged darkened frame around the picture, with rounded corners, confirming what you see is exactly what the photographer saw in his viewfinder, the authentic vision, not something recomposed after the event, and real film, not digital.
I love it when I pass an East-end hipster in the street toting a Leica film-camera, like they were Cartier-Bresson, good on for them. Ilford, Fuji or Kodak black and white – delightfully period. I cut my teeth on Ilford HP5 and Kodak TriX, 400 ASA. Somewhere, film and vinyl are analog medium, brothers under the skin. Of course you can achieve the same result in seconds in Photoshop, but where’s the magic in that? This is about magic.
Despite being hardly played, not quite as silent as the ECM legend suggests, a few clicks and pops, surface noise despite cleaning, with origins in the manufacturing process, and a slight warp, reminding one of what used to be an all-too frequent occurrence in the final years of vinyl, imperfections in manufacture fuelling the migration to The Evil Silver Disc™
Typical ECM, no liner notes as such, as though the title “1961” told you the most important thing you needed to know. In a way, it does. I still can’t credit that these recordings originate in the year 1961, entirely disconnected from the rest of the jazz scene, perhaps from a parallel universe, yes, 1961, but a different 1961, not the one most people think they know about.
AllMusic’s gentle dig at Creed Taylor (when he was still respectable) may be a trifle harsh, Taylor did produce great work for Verve 1960-67, but just when jazz seemed destined for the scrap heap in the ’70s, Creed Taylor came to the rescue with CTI Records, offering us George Benson, Hubert Laws, Eumir Deodata, Wes Montgomery, Antonio Carlos Jobim … well, may be not so harsh a judgement after all. I had one or two at the time, but a jazz wrong turn, I cringe on hearing any today.
If CTI Records has its following, I’m sure it does, so too must ECM. Its catalogue of bleak impressionistic soundscapes are great if your idea of a good evening in is sharing a windswept tent on a forlorn Norwegian mountainside with Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Eberhard Weber, Keith Jarrett, John Abercrombie, Pat Metheney, and Ralph Towner.
There may be more interesting ECM material I have not had the time and inclination to seek out. May be you have some suggestions, may be there are some ECM gems like this Guiffre that stand out from the pack. Even some CTI that bear up well on today’s turntable.
But remember, that’s this 2015, not some other different one.