Joe Giardullo 4tet: Now Is (2003)

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Listening to Joe Giardullo’s Now Is, it’s hard to believe the multi-instrumentalist/composer spent twelve years honing his craft in private, convinced no one was interested in his artistic output. After his Gravity Music for Chamber for Creative Chamber Group tanked commercially in ’79 (despite a four star review from Downbeat ), Giardullo resigned himself to working in a vacuum.

Then, in ’91 he played a gig that happened to include multi-instrumentalist/composer Joe McPhee. Both brought soprano saxophones, and after launching a tune the band sat out to witness the magical rapport the two newly-introduced men shared. That rapport blossomed into a long association that brought Giardullo into the limelight. Besides grants, gigs, and record contracts, their charmed odyssey led to a fateful recording date of 9/11/01, which resulted in the intense Shadow & Light.

Reassembling the same quartet over a year later yields Now Is. In addition to Giardullo and McPhee, the band includes the rhythm section of Tani Tabbal on drums and Mike Bisio on bass. Tabbal showed himself a prodigy early on, and he recorded with Steve Coleman, Cassandra Wilson, Craig Taborn, David Murray, Roscoe Mitchell, and Sun Ra. Bisio includes John Tchicai, Vinny Golia, Andrew Hill, and Marilyn Crispell on his credits, as well as recording four albums as a leader.

On the title track Tabbal throws down a hard bop rhythm with Bisio chasing after. McPhee and Giardullo greet each other, McPhee on flugelhorn. After some light banter they alternate streaming solos, and create arrangements on the run. Mood and tempo change drastically, to slow down and pare down to Bisio solo bass, bowing deep ridges. Giardullo sneaks back in with Tabbal on djembe. Giardullo takes it in a romantic direction in duet with Tabbal. His sweet lyrical route finds McPhee and they sing together with Tabbal, Tabbal solo takes it out.

Without McPhee, “Spin” features the trio. Giardullo and company sweep through a medium-tempo easy rolling improvisation. The ballad “Conference” opens with Giardullo then McPhee’s harder toned soprano. Bisio plays a laconic duet with Tabbal. The two sopranos make a dramatic return and play stealthy improvisations. With a hell-bent rhythm section, “SCINT” finds McPhee blazing on trumpet. Giardullo catches the fire and makes rapid-fire spontaneous composition sound easy. McPhee adds bursts of color.

Bisio’s soulful bowing starts “O.A.O.L,” and his dexterous plucking ends it. In between, the trio strolls through with Giardullo bubbling like a stream. The quartet returns for “Spring Theory,” McPhee’s soprano plays an impassioned interlude, then Giardullo takes a short run. The two play an extended improv together and it’s like pups tumbling over each other.

Recorded with a minimum of preconceptions, the main aesthetic guiding the sessions was that each musician’s voice be heard clearly. Hearts and souls are audible as well.

Track Listing: Now Is; Spin; Conference; SCINT; O.A.O.L.; Spring Theory: Close.

Personnel: Joe Giardullo, soprano saxophone; Joe McPhee, pocket trumpet, soprano saxophone, flugelhorn; Mike Bisio, contra bass; Tani Tabbal, drums, djembe.

Record Label: Drimala Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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