The Jimmy Giuffre Trio in 1957 included bassist Ralph Pena and guitarist Jim Hall. The leader's distinctive clarinet and tenor style gave the group its trademark cerebral sound, a sort of ascetic chamber jazz. Photo by William Claxton
Monday, November 28, 2011
The Unsounded Beat
Can music sans improvisation be considered jazz? This album may be a case in point.
Jimmy Giuffre, the guy with the unpronounceable surname, was an exponent of – what? – third stream music in the 1950s. Originally an arranger for Woody Herman, Giuffre secured a place in jazz history by composing (and playing on) "Four Brothers," and then made his mark as a soloist of substance with Shorty Rogers' Giants. But it was with a series of trios and quartets that the reedist really found his musical voice. Not exactly cool, not really chamber jazz, maybe a blend of classical and jazz approaches, the music produced by his groups remains unlike anything before or since. Only the MJQ and perhaps Art Farmer's quartet with Jim Hall capture a similar quiet, introspective intensity. Giuffre's music, though, had limited appeal, and many of his recordings have eluded collectors for decades.
I came across this record at an online auction site and knew I had to have it. I normally pay a buck or less for such treasures, but I ponied up considerably more for this Capitol disc. I don't know why – I'm not a huge fan of Jimmy Giuffre or the school of music he represents (if he can be said to represent any school at all). But Giuffre records are like hen's teeth, and a clean one is a true rarity, so I PayPal-ed my way to ownership. Because Jimmy's music is often very quiet with lots of silent spaces, vintage discs of his can often have distressingly bad sound quality. But this mono LP is cleaner than clean.
So here is "Tangents in Jazz," an odd work even for the Giuffre oeuvre. The liner notes describe its distinguishing characteristic as music with "no audible beat." Jimmy himself says it's "jazz, with a non-pulsating beat." To my ears, the beat's there all right – it's the improvisation that's lacking. As far as I can tell, only the trumpeter, jazz man and comedian Jack Sheldon, gets any real solo space. The rest is written out.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the music here is that it was produced at a time when groups like the Jazz Messengers were forming and hard bop was emerging as the dominant jazz style, at least on the East Coast. Giuffre was clearly in a different place. His compositions, despite their formal quality, are tuneful and compelling, and the record works well as a coherent whole. See what you think of it.
As always, these files were ripped right from the vinyl with only a very minor cleaning of the sound.
Tangents in Jazz
Jimmy Giuffre, cl, ts; Jack Sheldon, tp; Ralph Pena, b; Artie Anton, d.
Hollywood, CA; June 1955
1. Scintilla I
2. Finger Snapper
3. Lazy Tones
4. Scintilla II
5. Chirpin' Time
6. This Is My Beloved ((Vernon Duke)
7. The Leprechaun
8. Scintilla III
10. Scintilla IV
All compositions except 6 by Jimmy Giuffre
Find it here: http://www.mediafire.com/?hsh7ql05idxb0s5