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>Chicago Approach




Chicago Approach
Nuscope CD 1019, 2007

Guillermo Gregorio, clarinet
Pandelis Karayorgis, piano
Nate McBride, bass

Recorded in Chicago, October 2005

Nuscope Records

available on Bandcamp

1. Assembly
2. Spring Signs
(Don Friedman)
3. Catalpa
4. Lake Michigan Cues
5. Space Modulator
(Guillermo Gregorio)

6. Chicago Space I
7. Tap
(Pandelis Karayorgis)
8. Pilón
9. Chicago Space II
10. Chicago Approach
(Pandelis Karayorgis)
11. Airplanes
12. Madi Piece Nr.3-Rodchenko Suite Pt.2
(Guillermo Gregorio)
13. Large Glass
14. Variation
(Jimmy Giuffre)
15. Photogram


Chicago Approach is a heady, fastidious and wonderfully vivid example of the far-flung coalitions that fuel much of contemporary improvised music. Boston-based pianist Pandelis Karayorgis joins Chicago-based clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio and bassist Nate McBride in this mélange of the impromptu and the predesigned.

What's written? What isn't? Why does it matter? It doesn't. This set sticks together so marvelously and subtly. Jimmy Giuffre's name is bound to come up with any clarinet, piano and bass trio. Gregorio, Karayorgis and McBride even play Giuffre's "Variation." But the inspirations here are vast: air-traffic controllers, discrete "structural strategies," new music and even geometry. It's a cerebral document, but the basic drama and color are what give it power. McBride offers husky, dominant lines. Gregorio floats and skitters from Lee Konitz to Thelonious Monk to delicious reed abstractions. Karayorgis' lines are frenetic, focused and appealing. The group's the modest movement resonates. To conclude the set, "Photogram" offers mumbling piano, shearing clarinet and bass overtones. It's fragmented but also incisive, filled with a quiet beauty.
Greg Buium, **** (4 stars) Downbeat Magazine, June 2007

Although these albums are rightly paired by Nuscope for their respective connections to the vibrant Boston scene, Guillermo Gregorio's 1998 Red Cube(d) (hatOLOGY) provides a useful genealogical reference point. While Gergorio's trio with pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and violinist Mat Maneri largely focused on the clarinetist/saxophonist's deconstructions of 1940s jazz compositions, there was a tug between cool abstraction and churning emotions in the album's improvised exchanges that was not only thoroughly engaging, but crystallized a way to sublimate but not snuff out the use of idioms. These two fine recordings parse out the two essences that created this exquisite tension. Though Chicago Approach is comprised mainly of collective improvisations, the inclusion of pieces by Jimmy Guiffre and Don Friedman is a reminder of the pull of cool jazz on both Gregorio and Karayorgis, while Gregorio's original compositions reinforces the notion that he triangulates ideas of structure found in abstract art. (...)

Conversely, the limpid surfaces of the improvisations by Gregorio, Karayorgis and bassist Nate McBride take on translucent layers with repeated listening. The trio's abilities to sustain a sense of spaciousness and to buttress form with timbre (particularly Karayorgis, who dampens with great finesse) produce pockets into which the listener can delve and recalibrate the music's motivations and movements. Subsequently, Gregorio's clarinet takes on an urgency not initially felt, one that further separates him from the implicit Giuffre mold of the instrumentation and the inclusion of "Variation." Likewise, when McBride's bow scrapes and skitters across the strings, evocative shadows are cast. Mix in the respective idiomatic facets of Gregorio and Karayorgis' playing, and there are many elements vying to be heard.

In addition to their individual merits, Chicago Approach and Distich suggests that a reunion of Gregorio, Karayorgis and Maneri is in order.
Bill Shoemaker, Moment's Notice, Point Of Departure, Issue 10, March 2007
(joint review of Chicago Approach and Distich by Maneri/Maroney)

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.

More or less the same thing is true of “Catalpa,” but the less than three minutes the track takes to perform is the only instance where the duration seems somehow wrong. Brevity ensures that the intrigue the piece signals perhaps isn’t resolved in any meaningful sense, and the fact that Gregorio sounds like nothing other than a post-modern Pee Wee Russell just adds to the sense of frustration.

Having said that, the even briefer “Lake Michigan Cues” is to all intents and purposes the perfect miniature; to be able to put such a variety of mood and feelings in less than two minutes is no small achievement.

This is music that’s ultimately as singular as anything out there. The fact that it passes the test of repeated listening with such flying colors is only to be celebrated, and even though there’s something to be said for the assertion that it’s both dark and cold, it doesn’t alter the fact that the players are tapping some deeper, more fundamental truth.
Nic Jones, All About Jazz.com, August 2007

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.
Marc Medwin, Cadence Magazine, Vol. 33, No. 8, August 2007

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.
Richard Moule, Signal To Noise, Issue #47, Summer 2007

A strong dose of irony comes with the realization that a trio that disbanded after a $1.05 coffeehouse gig has ended up exerting a lasting posthumous influence on improvised music. The fortuitous partnership of Giuffre, Bley and Swallow continues to color the work of improvisers the world over with this convergence of clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio, pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and bassist Nate McBride is but the latest in a long list of proponents. In common with his contemporary Franz Koglmann, Gregorio's surveys into earlier schools of jazz like swing, Cool and Third Stream have motivated him to explore cerebral music making in a myriad of forms. The disc's title references another indelible pull, that of the Midwestern municipality he's called home base for over a decade. Karayorgis and McBride also have strong connections to the city, often through associations with Ken Vandermark, whose Free Fall trio is another kindred project.

Giuffre's musical presence is palpable throughout the program, most readily in the cover of "Variation," the disc's penultimate track. The trio also includes an inspired interpretation of Don Friedman's "Spring Signs," the pianist having served as Bley's initial replacement in Giuffre's 60s trio. Most of the other pieces are collectively improvised, but communicate the order and structural continuity of composed pieces. As is the Nuscope custom, acoustics are dry and limpid, bringing into keen focus the nuances of each instrument and revealing a collective sound that is sometimes calmative on the surface, but far from subdued upon closer inspection.

The trio engages in constant activity across the fifteen tracks. Gregorio's pitch gradations capitalize on the lubricious resonating properties of his reed. Swooping glisses animate "Chicago Space II" while "Airplanes" traffics in mellower fare, its flight plan wending through pastoral exchanges. Free counterpoint factors heavily into the interplay with the three players twining at various speeds and trajectories to create complex grids that also preserve commodious aural space. Karayorgis' key strokes combine beauty and ambiguity, his slanted runs lining the cracks without lacing things up. His composition "Tap" includes one of the date's most memorable melodic motifs. McBride is similarly nimble with fingers and bow, shadowing and enhancing the action of his colleagues without crowding. It's unclear whether this trio will continue as a working unit, but it seems likely that any gigs they might secure will yield revenues exponentially larger than the fiscally doomed ensemble that inspired them.
Derek Taylor, Bagatellen, March 2007

Recommended recording--Just one. (I spent most of my time with the amps.) Walt Mundkowsky, a LaFolia.com colleague, put me on to a Guillermo Gregorio release on a label I had not heard of. The Chicago-based reed player, whose music I got to know on a succession of superb hatART releases, has long been a favorite. Chicago Approach, Nuscope CD 1019 (www.nuscoperec.com), features Gregorio, clarinet; Pandelis Karayorgis at a Steinway D piano; and Nate McBride’s double-bass. In the ensembles in which Gregorio participates as leader, art music meets cool jazz. Fortes occur as rare events, and atonality flirts throughout. The disc’s fifteen numbers (nine trio collaborations, two by Karayorgis, two by Gregorio) have been appropriately recorded (Mary Gaffney, engineer; Alan Bise / Acoustic Digital, mixing and mastering). The sound is warm and intimate, exactly what the music requires. The players are with you in the room. I’ll be returning to Russell Summers’ Nuscope label soon. A delightful discovery. Thank you, Walt!
Mike Silverton, StereoTimes.com, July 2007

Liner notes by Michael Rosenstein
The cross-fertilizations of regional scenes have always been central to the history of jazz and improvised music. This was true in the early 1900s when King Oliver started the flow of musicians from New Orleans up to Chicago, and during the '60s in Europe with the commingling of like-minded experimenters from Wuppertal, Berlin, Amsterdam, and London. This tradition is still running strong. Take the meeting captured on this release featuring Boston-based pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, bassist Nate McBride (who recently relocated from Boston to Chicago), and Chicago-based clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio. These three are formidable improvisers who have immersed themselves in the history of improvised music while making critical connections to contemporary composition. These are players with an encyclopedic musical knowledge that takes in everything from Lee Konitz to Mauricio Kagel; from Don Friedman to Morton Feldman.

Russell Summers recalls that he initiated this session “because Pandelis and Nate had frequently worked together, and Pandelis and Guillermo had jointly worked beautifully on their two previous recordings.” The lineup might bring to mind the trio of Giuffre, Bley, and Swallow, but Gregorio is quick to point out many precedents, going back to a 1945 session with Omer Simeon, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster.

Chicago Approach calls up many images. Karayorgis explains, “It not only points to our geographic convergence but also to the approach for this session. The title came through listening to the conversation between pilots and air-traffic control during my flight to Chicago for this session.” As to the musical approach, those familiar with the work of these three will find the usual reworking of carefully-chosen covers (including Jimmy Giuffre's “Variation,” a piece Karayorgis learned while in Giuffre's student ensemble at NEC) and originals by both Karayorgis and Gregorio. Over half the tunes are improvisations which are stamped by the structural strategies that each of these players bring to play.

Gregorio talked a bit about the way they approached the session. “Pandelis' compositions prepared the field for improvisation with a special character. They are like frames of reference that appear during each improvisation and confer a special atmosphere...   My compositions are an extension of certain kind of pieces that I use to compose with a very definite structure. In any case, I find our ‘pure' improvisations very ‘compositional!' … All the experiences I had with Pandelis before this Chicago session were positive. Without need of extended explanations, we got together and played. The music flowed very easily… The addition of such a flexible and clever musician as Nate resulted in a very natural interaction. Our material evidences a very consistent group.” From the first notes, what comes across is this sound of a true collective.

It's striking how the three play off of each other, drawing on each of their strengths while bringing out new shadings as well. Karayorgis' oblique angularities and impeccable sense of harmonic phrasing are there, only concentrated to a heady distillate. Here his playing is as much about the space around the notes as it is attention to the carefully placed angular motifs and shard-like chords. McBride is an insightful musician who is now receiving the attention he deserves for his collaboration with leading improvisers such as Joe Morris and Ken Vandermark in addition to his own work as a leader, composer, and scene-promoter. This trio setting brings out the muscular grace in his playing, as the dark timbres of his bass counter with the piano and clarinet. Gregorio's clarinet completes the picture. Throughout, his playing is infused with the warm woody tones and phrasing of the jazz clarinet vocabulary while filtered through his structuralist sensibility.

With these three, the lines between composition and improvisations are not only blurred, they are completely irrelevant. Listen to the trio's reading of Giuffre's “Variation” which snakes Gregorio's clarinet over Karayorgis' fleet Monk-like abstractions and McBride's freely walking counterpoint. Then jump to the improvised “Chicago Space II” which sounds as if it might be part of the same compositional series. The dark beauty of the pianist's “Chicago Approach” has strong synergies with the collective “Lake Michigan Cues” or the bass/clarinet duo “Catalpa.” And one can easily hear the structural affinities between the spider-walk across the angular theme of Don Friedman's “Spring Signs,” the collectively improvised “Airplanes,” and the geometric refractions of Gregorio's “Space Modulator.” With all of these pieces, they draw a thread between compositional form, a deep-seated internalization of the jazz tradition, and complementary strategies toward improvisation.

With meetings like this, results are often tenuous. The dynamism of first-time collaborations can quickly devolve into an uneasy endeavor to find common ground. But when the musicians are keyed in to each other; when the session balances the bristling excitement of a live set and a laboratory to try out new things; that is when it all connects. And this record of what happened in a studio in Chicago one fall day in 2005 is proof that it is worth the risk.
Michael Rosenstein



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