The era that ushered in free jazz was perhaps marked more greatly by hornmen than by the pianists. Chicago-born pianist Burton Greene, who came to prominence on three 1966 ESP recordings, seems to have been given a bit of short shrift in the history books, mostly because until the last decade or so a significant amount of his sizeable discography was either out of print or on woefully obscure European labels unavailable in the States. With this latest trio of releases, however, Greene's status is cemented as a continually-evolving composer and improviser, who has embraced freedom as a tool rather than an end.
Burton Greene Trio
Ins and Outs
Ins and Outs is Greene's second trio - with support from Ed and George Schuller - date for CIMP. The standard piano trio format is one that Greene embraced early on in a 1966 date for ESP, On Tour, as a method for extreme subversion. Here, coaxing unearthly racket is not the name of the game, but rather it's a summation of inside-outside playing in a timeworn format. "Skumpy , previously recorded solo on Shades of Greene (Cadence), is given a significantly kwela-inspired rhythmic kick. Greene is a wealth of influences - Eastern European and Jewish folk melodies and Indian music also make their way into his thematic material and soloing.
The brothers Schuller provide a healthy dose of metric experimentation, seemingly shifting the pulse with every breath while never turning the beat. As Greene enters the bowels of the piano, the Schullers keep a constant hum of activity around him, far different from the mutual feeling-out employed by his '60s trio with bassist Steve Tintweiss and drummer Shelly Rusten. One thing that Greene's music of late has been consistent about is giving itself over to a number of different sonic possibilities, while not confusing those possibilities and their outcomes - in other words, going from kwela themes to spare piano-strings and wood-knocking is a seamless and logical exploration, rather than the appearance of trying to empty out one's aesthetic basket all at once. And Greene enters areas heretofore somewhat rare on his records - there's a blues, albeit rhythmically bent, in Eric Barkman's "Tale of Woe and the clipped bebop of "63rd & Cottage Groove , as well as free improvisation and funky Africanized tone-rows.
Burton Greene Quintet
Signs of the Times
Signs of the Times, a quintet date with trumpeter Paul Smoker and reedman Russ Nolan, begins with one of Greene's most infectious melodies to date, "Afro Balkan Blue , employing a predilection towards both modal post-bop and East European folk music, fleshed out with trumpet and tenor. Greene and the Schullers dissect what a rhythm section can do at regular intervals, turning insistent grooves into areas of sparse sonic exploration, sometimes leaving Smoker and Nolan hanging in the air, surrounded by whistling harmonics and delicate bells. "Jackal-ing , in homage to Monk, follows another classic Greene approach with its jagged rhythmic bounce amid frenetic clusters of notes (also employed on "Between Iraq and a Hard Place ) - yet, where at times this type of tune has sounded overly busy, here it offers a healthy dose of humor. On loose bop-inflected numbers like Jill McManus' "Triple Gemini , Greene displays his ability to feed horn soloists while allowing them the freedom as if they were in a pianoless group. His right hand jabs at melodic fragments and hints at clusters, all the while pushing Nolan's underdog-keen (á la JR Monterose) and Smoker's chattery smears forward. Like Nichols and Monk, Greene's music often calls for interaction with horns, even if he is a consummate pianist.
Retrospective 1961-2005: Solo Piano (Aug. 18, 2005)
Greene solo is another thing altogether and has become an increasingly regular format for him to engage. Retrospective 1961-2005: Solo Piano includes in its repertoire pieces by Wayne Shorter, Dave Brubeck, Monk, Sylke Rolig, Wilber Morris and a pair of themes collaboratively penned with flutist Jon Winter (formerly of the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble with Greene and Alan Silva, among others). As his pianistic approach is based on group interaction, solo may be an especially engaging challenge for Greene. Indeed there are tunes here that would be interesting to hear with an expanded palette, such as "Blue Orpheus and "Mark IV , written with Winter. It's a testament to Greene's concept as an artist that he can bring out the ensemble effect of an unfamiliar piece while playing it solo - that one's ears can discern a potential flute/piano dialogue, or bass and drums hovering in the spaces between his pianistic flourishes. "Strange Love similarly has horn lines audible in the thematic passages. But there are those tunes that are unequivocally rendered solo, like Shorter's obscure "Backstage Sally , on which Greene recalls a sprightly Ran Blake. There is something to the pianist-composer's art as a solo interpreter that one can sound both happily alone and giving a nod to what grandeur is possible on the same tunes. Ever kaleidoscopic is Burton Greene.
Tracks and Personnel
Ins and Outs
Tracks: Skumpy; Tales of Woe; Burkina Faso Swing; Chromatical Manner; 63rd and Cottage Groove; Gentle Wind and Falling Tear; When In Front, Get Off My Back; Summation On.
Personnel: Burton Greene: piano; Ed Schuller: bass; George Schuller: drums.
Signs of the Times
Tracks: Afro Balkan Blues; Jackal-ing; Triple Gemini; Sad Mood; Between Iraq and a Hard Place; When Will the Rain Gods Answer; Tension.
Personnel: Burton Greene: piano; Ed Schuller: bass; George Schuller: drums; Paul Smoker: trumpet; Russ Nolan: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute.
Retrospective 1961-2005: Solo Piano (August 18, 2005)
Tracks: Backstage Sally; Strange Love; Blue Orpheus; Boog-A-Doo; Now You Hear it Now You Don't; Little Rootie Tootie; Home on De-Range; In Your Own Sweet Way; Na-Calm (After the Storm); Mark IV; Chazz; Epoch-alypse; The 3 Day Music Coda.
Personnel: Burton Greene: piano solo.