Recording of the Week,
Jimmy Giuffre 3 - Live in Graz, 1961
The Jimmy Giuffre 3 of the early sixties was a strange proposition, even amongst the free jazz innovations taking place concurrently. Made up of Giuffre on clarinet, pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, they were playing perhaps the most ‘out’ jazz of anyone at the time (if you could label it as jazz), arguably being the first group to perform ‘improv’ in the European sense, as it would later be known, by artists like Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, and Han Bennink. There was also a strong dose of the classical avant-garde to the Giuffre Trio’s sound, having something of the astringency of Webern’s music (a composer who was barely known or recorded in the early sixties). This live recording, released officially for the first time on Hat Hut’s new „ezz-thetics“ series, is an ideal entry point into their unique sound.
The most remarkable thing about the group was where it had come from; Giuffre had been a swing band arranger in the late forties, contributing some unusual arrangements for the Woody Herman band, and then became part of the West-Coast cool jazz scene in the fifties. The Jimmy Giuffre Trio of the late fifties was comprised of Jim Hall on guitar and double bassist Ralph Peña, and was almost an easy listening proposition, performing what Giuffre described as "blues-based folk jazz", a tamer version of what the Brubeck Quartet were also dabbling in, making the leap to the abstractions of the Giuffre 3 on this Graz concert all the more surreal.
I have attempted to get to grips with the trio's classic Columbia album Free Fall from 1962 several times over the years (surely one of the least commercial records ever released by a major label), which was recorded in dry studio acoustics, and whilst I can admire it in small doses, I find it very stark and hard going. All of which makes this new Hat Hut release a very pleasant surprise, as there is a warmth here that was missing from the studio recordings, and it sounds much more recognisably like a jazz album as opposed to chamber music (possibly as it's a year prior to Free Fall). The trio perform two Carla Bley numbers, Ictus and Temporarily*, plus a tune dedicated to her by Paul Bley, then her husband, and the set as a whole does have something of Carla's light heartedness.
Bley and Swallow are absolutely on a par with Giuffre throughout, with the standard of improvisation evinced on tracks like ‘Trance’ and ‘Brief Hesitation’ keeping my full attention. Usually starting with a melodic phrase, the group quickly go off into free improvisation, with rhythmic figures emerging and then fractalising and little notion of who is soloing at a given time, and yet it all gels brilliantly.
If you are interested in exploring the group’s music I would strongly recommend listening to this disc first, not purely as an important document that presaged so much of what was to come, but also as a satisfying musical experience. Hat Hut have done it again - reclaiming a classic recording from the vaults for us to enjoy almost sixty years later. Nice one Werner!