No Such Thing
Boxholder BXH 018

Although he's only honored with one dedication on the final track of this disc, NO SUCH THING could be heard as a tribute to reedman/composer Jimmy Giuffre.

Consistently in the advance guard, Giuffre is probably the only man to have written a progressive jazz standard, "Four Brothers", for Woody Herman's late 1940s Second Herd's, and yet be considered a New Thing fellow traveler in the 1960s.

The now 80-year-old former teacher at Boston's New England Conservatory (NEC) influenced musicians throughout his career, but this band in conception and instrumentation harkens back to the drummer-less trio the reedist headed in 1961. Completed by pianist Paul Bley and a very young Steve Swallow on bass, the group created a new standard for understated improvisation. This admirable disc puts an individual and 21st century spin on those sounds.

Front and centre are Boston-based pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and bassist Nate McBride, coupled with former Bostonian, now Chicago resident Ken Vandermark, playing clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone and seemingly reveling in his sideman status.

Karayorgis, a NEC grad who has recorded with the likes of Chicago's multi-instrumentalist Guillermo Gregorio and another NEC avant woodwind icon, composer/performer Joe Maneri, wrote four of the tunes here. McBride, a Beantown stalwart, who is a member of such coop combos as Tripleplay and Konk contributed two tunes; while Vandermark weighed in with three.

Emulative, not imitative, the music here merely honors Giuffre's 1961 combo. But with similar instrumentation there's no way the influence won't come through. On McBride's "Pending", for instance, Vandermark begins with a cellar to attic clarinet run that could easily have jumped off Giuffre's legendary FREE FALL session. Yet he goes on to construct his solo out of tiny breaths, which mesh perfectly with Krayorgis' wiry, floating notes. Positively Chopinesque or abstract in turn, with plenty of right hand fills, the pianist's solo seems to develop arpeggio by arpeggio. McBride's bowed bass solidifies the bottom, as he does throughout the session.

On "27 Valentine", the bassist's other composition though, Vandermark's clarinet phrasing recalls bop masters like Buddy DeFranco and Tony Scott, rather than Giuffre. The older men would never have turned out the kind of raucous saxophone skronk with which Vandermark opens the disc on his "Skid Into the Turn".

Dedicated to Lee Konitz, another pioneering woodwind iconoclast, "Let Me Know", finds Vandermark limiting himself to the upper register of to his tenor to approximate Konitz's cool alto sound. McBride provides the steady bottom favored by members of the Tristano school from its bassists, while wild card Karayorgis lets loose with some muscular atonality, which might suggest that Cecil Taylor rather than Tristano had wandered into the studio.

Introduction of the unanticipated is one of the ways in which Karayorgis asserts himself on this disc. Should Vandermark be biting the reed or overblowing on a tune like the pianist's own "Disambiguation", he answers with repeated speedy runs or sharp keyboard slurs. In contrast, on the dour and lethargic "Summer", after the initial theme statement he lets the arco bass and chalumeau-register clarinet take over while he practically disappear.

Dedication, demonstration or display, this disc is certainly worth investigation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Skid Into the Turn 2. 27 valentine 3. Summer 4. Disambiguation 5. Let Me Know 6. Pending 7. SBL 8. Tripothetical 9. Taken

Personnel: Ken Vandermark (clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone); Pandelis Karayorgis (piano); Nate McBride (bass)