The obvious precedent for any trio consisting of clarinet, piano and bass is the group that clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre once had with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow. But once that point has been made it serves no purpose in the discussion of this music, which is work that has to be dealt with on its own terms. And not least because of Guillermo Gregorio’s clarinet playing, which is unlike anything in the jazz canon, and it’s far more expansive than Giuffre’s ever was in this setting.
To place undue focus on any of the musicians individually is however somewhat misleading. This is music as three-way conversation, and the democracy that this suggests puts it profoundly at odds with so much of the stuff that’s out there.
The effect of this is bracing. On “Space Modulator” the group ambience is so wide open, and this despite the overt formality that seems to pervade the music. The effect is that of a trio in a perpetual state of restless probing.
The odd balance of the group, something which is of course a direct consequence of the demands of the music they’re performing, is such that it often seems as if Nate McBride on bass is covering the most ground. This is especially true on the title track, where the wide-open space between filigreed clarinet and piano lines is alternately filled or left open. In a sense, the sheer unpredictability of the bass, in this instance, undermines what might be called a point of conventional reference. The listener is left with no doubt about how rarefied the space the group occupies is.
The Gregorio aggregate is obviously indebted to the early 1960s incarnation of the Giuffre 3, but Chicago Approach is far from merely being some sort of homage. Wise programming and a fluidity of approach ensure this disc's cohesion, facilitating enjoyable listening to any of these miniatures or to the group as a whole, which takes on the character of a single piece. In microcosm, "Large Glass" acknowledges and transcends the Giuffre method, especially in the opening gestures, where the clarinet rises, almost imperceptibly, out of luminous but transparent piano chords. In direct opposition, the group's reading of "Spring Signs" demonstrates relaxed but precise ensemble playing of a more traditional bent, Karayorgis' multicolored articulations birthing lines that are then just as easily broken in favor of new ones. His interplay with McBride is worth much more analysis than can be afforded here, but intense and constant listening propels each interaction far beyond ordinary dialogue.
While these discs [Distich is the other one refered to here] will not appeal as strongly to a certain breed of traditionalist, the artists' varied rhetoric, steeped in multiple traditions, and the first‑rate engineering assure Nuscope's continued status as one of the U.S.'s finest outlets for improvised music.
From the title alone, you might assume that the music here is as muscular and corporeal as befits the stereotypical impression of free improv from the Windy City. And you'd be further justified in thinking that when perusing the aeronautically-themed song titles like "Space Modulator", "Assembly" and 'Airplanes". However, nothing could be further from the truth with respect to this intimate and graceful disc from Chicago clarinetist Gregorio, recent Chicago transplant from Boston, double bassist McBride and Boston pianist Karayorgis. STN contributor writer Michael Rosenstein penned the liner notes to this disc of spare and hushed beauty, and rightly notes the influence of the Jimmy Giuffre's trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, and indeed, they interpret Giuffre's "Variation." And certainly there's no denying its musical antecedent in the Third Stream movement. But unlike the cool, dry austerity that characterized Giuffre's work, there is a lyrical affability and warmth to the angular arrangements of these chamber-like pieces, that dance with a nimbleness like insects trading places on blades of grass or skipping across a pond: quick darts and sudden pirouettes counter pointed by lingering moments of lull and stillness. It's why the nimbleness here has less to do with speed and more to do with a agility as this trio's mastery for turn of phrases and dynamics is sublime. A casual listen to these subdued ballads might suggest this is like overhearing a private three-way conversation between low-key speakers, and doubtless the spontaneous dialogue and keen listening between these three gentlemen is at the heart of this musical relationship. But while restraint and understatement is pervasive, there are moments of animation as on the spritely title track as well as on "Airplanes" and "Spring Signs". Still, in the end, it is the quiet, yet incisive and probing gestures between this shifting musical triangle that gives it its sense of beatitude.
Liner notes by Michael Rosenstein
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