Wobbly Rail 013

Fly Away Little Bird
Sunnyside/Owl SSC 3504

Named for the LP that presented the fullest realization of clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s chamber-avant garde in 1962, the band Free Fall shows how the structured freedom of the trio can be adapted to the 21st Century.

Yet FURNACE succeeds on its own terms because the musicians involved — American reedist Ken Vandermark and Norwegians, pianist Håvard Wiik and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten — haven’t gone the neo-con route of recreation. Instead nine new compositions have been recorded, with the performance of the three as influenced by the subsequent 40 years plus of improv experimentation as the original Giuffre trio’s sound.

Fascinatingly enough the final (1992) reunion CD of the original Giuffre FREE FALL trio — pianist Paul Bley and now electric bassist Steve Swallow join Giuffre — doesn’t much sound like what the three recorded in 1962 either. Although it has interesting sections of its own, FLY AWAY LITTLE BIRD doesn’t match up to FURNACE, nor does it reach the standards set on others discs by the trio 30 years previously. Giuffre appears to be less than low-key — he may be showing the first signs of Parkinson’s disease that now prevents him from playing — Swallow’s electric bass obliterates the nuances he was capable of with his acoustic. And Bley seems to feel he has to try to knit together the unraveling strands with overt, almost overbearing pianisms.

On FURNACE, Vandermark, whose eagerness to record means that he sometimes overextends himself, has linked up with two schooled Europeans to express his vision. Both veterans of Vandermark’s School Days project and large Territory band, Håker Flaten has worked with everyone from Finnish electric jazz guitarist Raoul Björkenheim to the all-star freebop Electrics group with German trumpeter Axel Dörner and Swedish drummer Raymond Strid — both of whom have also played with Vandermark. Håker Flaten and Wiik are also two-fifths of Atomic, a popular Norwegian jazz combo that modernizes Cool Jazz concepts.

Before FREE FALL Giuffre practically invented Cool Jazz with his “Four Brothers” chart for the Woody Herman Herd. But Vandermark’s focus here is on 1960s icons, with tunes dedicated to Bley, reedist Eric Dolphy and most impressively, poet Frank O’Hara and pianist Bill Evans.

The O’Hara tribute and title tune is more abrasively experimental than anything attempted by the original Giuffre three. Built around Håker Flaten’s heavy bass lines, you can actually hear the strings’ finish being scraped as he pulls and pushes, double and triple stopping this side of slap bass territory. Wiik responds with a sped up tremolo section and a split-second glissando, as Vandermark honks, growls and slurs his reed into freak altissimo tones. By the end, all three are speedily sluicing on all four cylinders.

Surprisingly enough for a piece dedicated to Evans, “Half Past Soon” is a steady swinger based on passing piano chords plus false fingering and flattement from Vandermark’s clarinet. Then again Evans did have a long association with clarinetist Tony Scott, who was an unabashed bebopper. Perhaps Wiik’s harmonic polyphony mixed with Impressionistic arpeggios and Vandermark’s double timed reprising of the theme is a sort of homage to that earlier partnership.

Vandermark also shows off his skill as a bass clarinetist on “Hopscotch” and other tunes. On “Hopscotch”, as the pianist introduces subtle contrasting dynamics, the reedist puts a bit of torque onto his warmer, low-pitched register, smearing his lines until he joins with Wiik for a unison exit.

More puzzling, while it does indeed vanish “Into The Air” as the title has it, the slow moving, dissonant harmonies of that tune seem a lot closer to the work of the honored Giuffre trio than anything played by dedicatee Eric Dolphy. Especially since when the piece moves to mid-range, its cascading piano chords and resonating strummed bass line cement that impression.

As a writer, Wiik’s “Emergency” is a fast, snaky line made up of double timed, flashing keyboard syncopation, powerful walking bass and liquid, almost Swing Era slurs from the clarinet. Two-thirds of the way through it speeds up even more, introducing dancing piano octaves and clarinet squeaks.

Moving from energy to possible exhaustion and from FURNACE to the progenitors on FREE FALL, the Giuffre reunion CD compounds a desultory delivery with a time of more than 76½ minutes. Removing some band takes on over-familiar standards and some shorter solo features could have tightened up a session that already seems a little distracted.

Even when the three men reunite for another run through of Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” which they recorded both in studio and live in 1962, the effect is this side of melancholy. With Giuffre sounding merely wistful and Swallow’s lines too upfront, Bley

produces a series of single note tremolos and low frequency, cushioning harmonies. The same thing happens on the title tune, as Giuffre’s moderate Bel Canto tone and Bley’s impressionistic fingering in quiet quadrants greatly contrast with Swallow’s now resonating, guitar-like tone.

On his own, the pianist, who is honored with a song dedication on FURNACE, uses his space to confirm his solo prowess. On “Qualude” he explores the darker possibilities of the duplex scale. With theme snatches suggesting “Somewhere” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”, his steady left hand trickles out some blues-like notes as the right produces tremolo cadenzas. By the end boogie-woogie inflected double timing has given the smooth balladic melody some unexpected spikiness. All this succinctly sums up Bley’s iconoclasm.

Boogie-woogie stylings even seeps into “Possibilities”, the next tune. Bley splashes octave runs, Swallow’s spews a constant rhythmic thrust and Giuffre mewls the melody from the soprano saxophone. Whether Swallow’s buzzing accompaniment helps or hinders matters, the reedist makes it clear with his double tonguing that he’s no John Coltrane or Steve Lacy. He’s also older than either one.

“Tumbleweed”, the reedman’s solo feature, finds him alternately sing-shouting and playing. While it may be Giuffre’s most distinctively avant-garde showcase, the vocalized mixture of Spanish and gibberish could probably have been dispensed with — it adds very little to the date. He shows his control of the licorice stick through, first squealing out notes in tip top pitch then blowing them out slowly in chalumeau register until the theme is reconstructed out of strained tongue stops and trilled split tones.

At almost 11½ minute, the album’s showcase, “Bats in the Belfry”, a sonorous rondo seems to be an instant composition. Giuffre breaths out the theme in familiar fashion followed by single note fills from Bley. Light-fingered piano arpeggios spur the reedman to elongate his smears, then Swallow’s repeated undertow allows the other two to project breezy lines on top. With Giuffre in mellow, mid-range, Bley starts dampening the key action for more percussive sounds that join with strums and slaps from Swallow. Building up a combination of constricted string action and the occasional keyboard accent, Bley leads Giuffre to end the track — and the session — with a flutter-tongued trill.

Giuffre’s trio should be honored for its pioneering avant-chamber work that is wanly reflected on certain tunes of this CD. But, if it wasn’t for the Giuffre trio, the fine disc that FURNACE is wouldn’t have come into existence.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Furnace: 1. Inside Out (for Paul Bley) 2. The Spell of Introspection 3. Hopscotch (for Merce Cunningham) 4. Furnace (for Frank O’Hara) 5. Into The Air (for Eric Dolphy) 6. Half Past Soon (for Bill Evans) 7. Momento 8. Halfway 9. Emergency

Personnel: Furnace: Ken Vandermark (Bb and bass clarinets); Håvard Wiik (piano); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass)

Track Listing: Fly: 1. Fly Away Little Bird 2. Fits 3. I Can’t Get Started 4. Qualude 5. Possibilities 6. Tumbleweed 7. All The Things You Are 8. Starts 9. Goodbye 10. Just Dropped By 11. Lover Man 12. Sweet and Lovely 13. Bats in the Belfry

Personnel: Fly: Jimmy Giuffre (clarinet and soprano saxophone, vocal); Paul Bley (piano); Steve Swallow (electric bass)