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Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of evolution's dead ends, 8 Jan. 2009
This review is from: The Jimmy Guiffre 3 (Audio CD)
Jazz has evolved over the last century or so and it is easy to see how one form has grown almost seamlessly out of another. That is not to deny the immense importance and originality of giants like Armstrong or Parker but they did come out of an established tradition, and their influences were absorbed into that ongoing tradition.

Like any other form of evolution there are side branches which develop from time to time but which go nowhere. In jazz most of these will probably never get much beyond the rehearsal room but some go on to have a brief life before simply dying out and without leaving any progeny. Two examples might be Artie Shaw's use of strings in some of his big band performances, and the "progressive jazz" of Stan Kenton.

Of more interest, I think, are the so-called "pianoless" groups of the 1950s. The most important and best-known of these are the quartets led by Gerry Mulligan, with two horns, bass and drums.

I think the term "pianoless" is somewhat misleading. It had been uncommon, but by no means rare, to have pianoless jazz groups from a long way back. But these groups would invariably have a guitar or (in earlier days) banjo to provide a chordal backing. What was new about the "pianoless" groups of the 1950s was the complete absence of any instrument which could play chords and set the harmonic pattern of the tune being played.

The Jimmy Giuffre Three goes one step beyond Mulligan in that they drop drums as well. And although Jim Hall plays guitar he plays it as a melodic and not chordal instrument, only very occasionally playing two strings together. Giuffre himself plays alto, tenor or clarinet and the fine bass player is Ralph Pena.

So what does this trio sound like? Well, all bar one of the numbers were written by Giuffre, and all were tightly arranged by him. There is relatively little space for solos. Giuffre's sax sound is a very breathy one and he carries this over to the clarinet in a way which I can't recall hearing before. There is little doubt as to who is the boss on these recordings.

The performances themselves are very good: indeed, in such groups they have to be because there is nowhere to hide and nothing to cover up any slips. At times the question might rise unbidden "But is it jazz?" to which the answer must be an ever-so-slightly hesitant "Yes". But hard bop it certainly ain't, and (dreadful to say) there are times when - to this listener at least - the music doesn't really swing.

So do I recommend this CD? With the reservations I have given the answer is "Yes". At the lowest level it is always interesting and tuneful. But this style of jazz was probably always going to be something which was a side branch on the evolutionary tree and wasn't really going anywhere.
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Initial post: 22 Mar 2010 19:01:28 GMT
John Carter says:
shut up martin
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Location: Shropshire, England

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