Great art and in particular great music does not neatly fit in narrowly defined categories. Such is the case with the Bob Gluck Trio's Sideways. The music is a mix of different jazz styles with an overall strong classical flavor.
The CD contains nine pieces: three long bass-dominated ones, each over 10 minutes; and six shorter piano-driven tunes. Whether playing original compositions or standards the trio, by its improvisational skills and interpretation, make the music extremely personal and unique. To call the playing avant-garde or free jazz is an oversimplification. Sure, this is not a traditional trio album and there is a lot that is unconventional about it, but the intense mellifluousness and structured playing make it much different than the usual free blowing session.
Despite the Joe Zawinul compositions, the use of electronics and, on one track, the shofar (a Jewish religious ceremonial horn), the record cannot be pidgeon-holed in the fusion category either, because the tone is more modal and the rhythms are clearly very polyphonic and not anchored by an electric bass as the case is in many fusion recordings.
There is a definite western classical musical imprint to this record, especially in shorter pieces which are vaguely reminiscent of Debussy's "Images et Estampes," especially in Gluck's use of sound and silence, but the percussion, quietly and gracefully, pushes it more into the jazz arena. There is an overall brooding, yet not necessarily sad, common theme that unifies all pieces into a single work. There is logic to the order of the different tracks so that listening to the record from beginning to end is far more rewarding than playing them in a random order.
All three musiciansGluck, bassist Michael Bisio and percussionist Dean Sharpare master improvisers and interpreters. All their solos are highly structured and multilayered yet extremely unpredictable, making them delightful to listen to time and time again.
The real star of the CD, however, is Bisio. His ability to play the most intricate melodies and maintain the most complex rhythms is a testament to his virtuosity and versatility. He is able to turn the bulky bass into a malleable instrument and coax out of it a range of notes that are not often heard from a bassist.
The only minor weakness that prevents this great record from becoming perfect is the lack of cohesive ensemble playing. The group interplay is always used as a bridge from one solo to the next and does not stand on its own.
The Bob Gluck trio has created a near classic work of art, one that will easily withstand the test of time and, especially with the pristine sound of the CD, will definitely reward repeat listens.
Personnel: Bob Gluck: piano, electronics, shofar; Michael Bisio: bass; Dean Sharp: percussion.