Jimmy Giuffre – Western Suite – Atlantic SD-1331 (1958)/ Pure Pleasure (2015) – stereo vinyl, 38:19 ****1/2:
A hi-res update of an inventive jazz symphony sounds vibrant!
(Jimmy Giuffre – clarinet, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Bob Brookmeyer – trombone; Jim Hall – guitar)
Part of Jimmy Giuffre’s musical legacy is his development of unprecedented jazz forms. He first gained notoriety in the late forties as an arranger for Woody Herman. Then Giuffre became a fundamental part of West Coast Jazz. In the fifties he formed a trio (playing saxophone instead of clarinet) with Jim Hall (guitar) and Ralph Pena (double bass). This created an ability to combine animated jazz music with low-keyed chamber interludes. When he replaced the doublebass with Bob Brookmeyer (trombone), Giuffre experienced a creative surge. The result of this was an original composition, Western Suite, that added a refreshing dimension to jazz.
Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered Western Suite to 180-gram vinyl. Side One opens with the core of the album, the four-part “Western Suite”. This is a truly ambitious work that draws on the rare alchemy between improvisational jazz and modern American classical music. The First Movement (“Pony Express”) embraces the folk elements that the title suggests, but in a unique way. After establishing a loping cadence, Bob Brookmeyer weaves a lyrical resonance and shades the melody with finesse. Giuffre is bluesy on tenor and joins Brookmeyer in unison and harmony. Jim Hall is the rhythmic anchor, with lower register play that feels like a double bass. The trio’s interactions are spontaneous and creative. There are those who compare some of the thematic framework to Copland. Giuffre’s elegant composition is tinted with classical flourish, and jazzy swing. “Apaches” employs a different sentiment. Brookmeyer adopts an atmospheric, melancholic line that fits perfectly. Giuffre combines rhythmically and the tempos and modulations complement the hushed moments.
Paying homage to classical structure, the Third Movement (“Saturday Night Dance”) is vivacious, pastoral and concise (under three minutes). Switching to clarinet, Giuffre is playful and provides a lively energy. Brookmeyer in turn evokes sauciness on trombone. With a flourish, the Fourth Movement (“Big Pow Wow”) resurrects many of the melodic and harmonic themes from the prior tracks. There are pulsating undercurrents and the delicately constructed piece seems to augment the dynamics of this unusual trio. The utilization of sustained notation is glowing and punctuates the jam.
Western Suite alters the course on Side Two with a couple of inspired covers. Giuffre steps up front with hot clarinet licks on “Topsy” (popularized by the Count Basie Big Band). There is a freewheeling ambiance to this medium swing opus. Hall is memorable for creating a guitar line that percolates like a snappy walking bass line. Additionally when he executes chords, they have the same effect as drums, providing a palpable down beat. He gets a wee-deserved solo. The synergy of this unit is on full display. During Giuffre’s feisty solos, Brookmeyer counters with hushed shadings. The trombonist showcases his soulfulness when he is in the spotlight. As the three combine near the end, their fluidity and subtlety are stellar (especially the clarinet/trombone harmonies). Taking on Thelonious Monk (“Blue Monk”) is never easy, but this ensemble celebrates in bluesy agility. Again, Giuffre takes the lead (with an occasional vibrato) on this finger-snapping exploration. Brookmeyer brings a slow-burning intensity to his solo, and Giuffre slides in with a quiet counter.
Pure Pleasure’s re-mastering breathes new life into Western Suite. Brookmeyer’s valve trombone sounds lush without the slightest tonal piercing. Equally the clarinet is smooth without any of the innate shrillness. The mixing is excellent and the listener can discern the most understated background instrumentals. Original liner notes by Nate Henthoff take you into the creative thought process of Giuffre.
Side One: First Movement Pony Express; Second Movement Apaches; Third Movement Saturday Night Dance; Fourth Movement Big Pow Wow; Side Two: Topsy; Blue Monk