Joe Giardullo Open Ensemble

Red Morocco
Rogue Art ROG-0012

Highly orchestrated, multi-faceted and engrossing, Red Morocco is a breakthrough large-form suite composed by veteran reed player Joe Giardullo. It rationally illustrates how his notated ideas can be interpreted by a group of 14 American and Canadian improvisers.

Largely self-taught as a composer and instrumentalist, Giardullo’s interest in musical creation was fed by an appreciation for Stockhausen, Berio and Indian music, study of George Russell’s Lydian Theory of Tonal Organization; plus playing situations with Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Lester Lanin (!) Peg Leg Bates (!!) Pauline Oliveros and others. It reaches inventive fruition with this 10-part creation.

Evidently skewed towards New music at first, by the end of the final, and incidentally, title track, the contributions of notable improvisers mean that those tilts towards formalism are surmounted. How else could it be, with sonic interjections from the likes of Joe McPhee on trumpet and trombone, cellist Daniel Levin, violinist David Prentice and Giardullo himself on sopranino saxophone, alto flute and bass clarinet? At the same time there’s no confusing the program with doctrinaire modern jazz, experimental or otherwise. Not only are there microtonal and/or legato undulation from the three fiddlers and two cellists, but the rhythm section lacks a double bassist and a traps drummer. Percussion is the province of Brian Melick using almost any instrument that can be whacked, scraped, scratched, ratcheted and shaken; plus the chiming resonation of David Arner’s xylophone.

Should a variant such as “Q-2G (e)” begin with near-rococo styling from massed strings, pitter-pattering xylophone keys, and curvaceous hide-and-seek saxophone and clarinet lines, then the track’s completion refers to a contrapuntal arrangement advanced on “OPD”, two tracks earlier. On the former, a perfect balance is realized between double and triple pizzicato string stopping and the crunch of reverb and distortion feedback from the dual guitars of Dom Minasi and Rich Rosenthal. Yet negating the rules of standard jazz-rock fusion, the guitar licks aren’t framed in an unvarying drum beat, but by the percussionists’ buzzing timbres, glockenspiel chiming, maracas shaking, plus brass slurs and hocketing from McPhee and trumpeter Gordon Allen.

Elsewhere muted trumpeting is cushioned in overtone layering from massed strings and horns, only to be interrupted by staccato discord from one violinist – plus a contrapuntal counter-line from McPhee’s trombone. Other places the two trumpets circle one another in different guises – one playing smooth connective grace notes and the other triplets in broken octaves – until they link and complement one another. Then there are spots where the two reedists divide their interaction between irregular vibratos, split tones and staccatissico tongue slaps, with this unfolding on top of wooden marimba-like pressures and whining string striations.

Red Morocco, the CD and “Red Morocco”, the composition concludes with xylophone and cello chipping tones at one another, following a moderato trumpet and reeds variation and two intermezzos: one for gentling violin and xylophone, and the other for tough sul tasto cello runs and squeaky violin double stopping.

Confirmation of Giardullo’s compositional skills, the CD is a memorable listening experience.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: 1. OPB 2. OPG 3. 2T(m) 4. Memory Root 5. OPD 6. NFRTT-1 7. Q-2G(e) 8. Calabar 9. Hikori 10. Red Morocco.

Personnel: Gordon Allen (trumpet); Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet and valve trombone); Joe Giardullo (bass clarinet, sopranino saxophone and alto flute); Lori Freedman (clarinet and bass clarinet); Rosie Hertlein, David Prentice and Michael Snow (violins); Daniel Levin and Martha Colby (celli); Steve Lantner (piano); Dom Minasi and Rich Rosenthal (guitars); David Arner (xylophone) and Brian Melick (percussion)