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A swing orchestra veteran, Giuffre made his name as part of the West Coast school of cool jazz, but his restless creative spirit drove him to push the boundaries of texture, dynamic shading, counterpoint, and improvisational freedom in surprisingly avant-garde ways, despite maintaining a cool, cerebral exterior.
The music is Giuffre at his finest — at that point, finding a language with his two collaborators, pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow (who hadn’t made the permanent switch to electric then) — that was outside even the avant-garde at the time, yet in the tradition enough for some listeners and critics to be able to hold onto as modern jazz.
Both recordings make use of a profound use of subtlety in gesture — this is more true of Giuffre and Bley than Swallow, but without a drummer, the guy had a tough gig to hold down — and a creative use of space, one that allowed for a free contrapuntal interplay between musicians while keeping their distance in order to keep the music in front of them.
In other words, space was used as a way to communicate what not to do rather than what to play.
While most improvisations did stick to ideas based on chord changes, there are moments, many of them on Thesis, where the formal structures slipped into the ether and gave way to an improvisation that used silence as a cue to innovate and improvise…
And the space and clarity of Barbara Wojirsch’s layout – most visible on the front and back cover – is a perfect visual accompaniment to the music. I managed to find two small images of the original covers (though on second thoughts, the Thesis cover looks like it may be a later Verve reissue): If you hear and enjoy the music on these albums then Free Fall, the final studio recording by the trio is absolutely essential.
Likewise the double live set, tragically long out of print, on Hat Art: Emphasis & Flight 1961 and the Graz 27 October 1961 bootleg.
1961 is a two disc reissue of the trio’s albums Fusion and Thesis.
I’m not sure why it was renamed 1961, I prefer the original titles, but otherwise this release is wonderful.
In 1949, he joined up with Woody Herman, for whom he'd penned the classic composition "Four Brothers" two years earlier.
He then moved to the West Coast, where he learned clarinet and baritone sax, and played with groups like Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars and Shorty Rogers' Giants.