If you're familiar with the royal reissue treatment provided by Mosaic Records than you know that one of the tenants of their company philosophy is the acknowledgment of not only established masters, but also neglected artists of great merit. Never so much has an artists fit the bill of overlooked genius than in the case of multi-reedman Jimmy Giuffre. Long misunderstood by critics and fans alike, the major part of his recorded legacy has been out-of-print- for decades and only through a project like Mosaic's could we have ever expected to have had all of Giuffre's important works so expertly collected in one package.
Giuffre has long been associated with the cool sounds emanating from the West coast. His style is one of quiet introspection, influenced as much by the jazz legacy as by modern composers such as Hindemith, Stravinsky, and Milhaud. In fact, the first two sessions to be featured as part of this 6 CD set are 1954 sides cut in LA with such west coast luminaries as Jack Sheldon, Curtis Counce, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, and Bob Cooper. These albums, Four Brothers and Tangents in Jazz, have long been considered masterpieces and their reissue has been much overdue. Both feature Giuffre playing clarinet and tenor and baritone saxophones. The groups vary in size and are void of any chordal instrument except for the addition of piano on three cuts. Cerebral in nature but lightly swinging, these performances are considered among Giuffre's finest recorded moments.
Up next we get selections from the first of Giuffre's Atlantic recordings, the highly-prized The Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet. The instrumentation is unique here, with a different grouping for each cut. "So Low" features Giuffre solo with his foot tapping as sole accompaniment. Elsewhere there's unique combinations of various clarinets, flutes and a pairing of Giuffre with the celeste of Jimmy Rowles. What really stands out are the inventive arrangements and Giuffre's individualistic clarinet tone, warm and woody and highly inviting.
A very rewarding bonus, the next three selections find Giuffre as guest artist with the Modern Jazz Quartet and three more catch the clarinetist strutting his stuff with an all-star group (including Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart, George Wein, Oscar Pettiford, and Connie Kay) assembled for a 1956 concert. It makes for a fascinating listen to compare Giuffre's work here with that done under his own auspices. Clearly, those who have said that he works under a limited technique and projects a narrow range of emotions will find themselves mistaken, for Giuffre is at his most expressive best on these performances.
Prized by those who have some familiarity with the man's music are the next sessions that feature a changing set of trios known collectively as the Jimmy Giuffre Three. A self-titled date from 1956 features guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ralph Pena and includes such classics as "Voodoo" and "The Train and the River". Of special interest are eight performances from another edition of the Three that put Jim Atlas at the bass helm, all but two cuts being previously unissued.
The next three albums, Trav'lin' Light, The Four Brothers Sound, and Western Suite document the trio of Giuffre, Hall, and Bob Brookmeyer. Arguably, this music is the most rewarding due to the intricate interplay among Giuffre and Brookmeyer. It's amazing that these records didn't receive more attention when they were originally released because they are so creative, yet also very listenable. The Four Brothers Sound also sports Giuffre providing a complete saxophone quartet through his overdubbing of the various parts.
Finally, one of the highlights of the set is left for last. Believe it or not, Giuffre decided to make an album of his own arrangements of pieces from the Broadway musical The Music Man. What could have been pure mediocrity in lesser hands turns into an ingenious treatment of some memorable tunes scored for a pianoless group that features three trumpets, three saxophonists, bass, and drums. If there was any question as to how significant a writer Giuffre is, affirmations are abundantly provided via this oft-overlooked classic.
Although it may seem redundant to mention for the initiated, Mosaic's presentation here is nothing short of perfection. A full-sized box holds the discs and deluxe 16-page booklet that includes many choice photos from a variety of sources. Instead of presenting the selections in strict chronological order, Mosaic has wisely chosen to group the selections based on instrumentation. Sound quality is consistently high and Francis Davis provides insightful information and session-by-session analysis that guides you through this complex and enlightening body of work. What else can I say, Mosaic has done it again! This set is available as a limited edition and only through mail order. Contact Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut 06902 or visit them on-line at www.mosaicrecords.com.Collective