Booed in the ’60s, but Time Will Tell: Jimmy Giuffre’s Music Finds New Appreciation
By Nate Chinen
A rigorous composer, clarinetist and tenor saxophonist, Jimmy Giuffre made a conscientious break from the jazz mainstream in the 1960s; by today’s standards, his music sounds quite modern.
It’s anyone’s guess what Jimmy Giuffre was thinking when he improvised the stark, intriguing solo clarinet pieces intended for his 1962 Columbia album, “Free Fall.” Along with the five that made the cut, there were five others that saw the light of day some 35 years later, as bonus tracks on an overdue reissue. Small gems of oblique investigation, they bear titles that seem to hint at Giuffre’s state of mind; among them is one with a lonesome air, played in shadowy subtones, that he called “Time Will Tell.”
That would have made a decent mantra for Mr. Giuffre (pronounced JOO-free), who died in 2008, of complications of Parkinson’s disease. A rigorous composer, clarinetist and tenor saxophonist, he’d had a few tastes of critical and commercial success before “Free Fall,” which also features the bassist Steve Swallow and the pianist Paul Bley, and belongs to the small category of jazz recordings that truly were ahead of their time. Its dismal reception cost Giuffre his recording contract and his momentum: He didn’t make another album for a decade, missing the peak years of the ’60s avant-garde.
“The Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4: New York Concerts” (Elemental), due out on Tuesday, is a startling dispatch from that season in exile. Comprising a pair of previously uncirculated live recordings from 1965, it illuminates a murky period in Giuffre’s career. Atypically for him, both sessions feature a drummer, the superbly alert Joe Chambers, who brings a firm rhythmic push without muddying the music’s intent. “They sound great together, just so natural and flowing,” said the trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas. “If they had made a Blue Note record, it would be considered one of the big classics of the period.”
The urge is almost irresistible, when discussing Giuffre, to dwell on what might have been. But the new release also encourages some thoughts of what might yet be. It happens to arrive at a moment of growing admiration for Giuffre among current jazz musicians drawn to his chamberlike counterpoint and thoughtfully abstracted form.
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