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Giuffre/Bley/Swallow: Fly Away Little Bird

Rex  Butters By

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Recorded a year before this trio's final record in ’93, Fly Away Little Bird delivers a more grounded, earthy performance than Conversations With a Goose. Here, Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, and Steve Swallow explore their blues roots, particularly Giuffre. And, in addition to their trademark spontaneous inventions, they lovingly render five standards and a surprisingly strong composition by Juanita Odjenar Giuffre, Mrs. Jimmy. This was their third album for Owl after a 27-year hiatus.

Giuffre’s credited with the title track, a wistful group piece with Jimmy on clarinet. The three musicians easily revolve in and out of their solos and supporting roles. “Fits” gives Swallow a solo run that carries a vaguely Spanish flavor with classical counterpoint. All three give a heartfelt reading to Vernon Duke’s “Can’t Get Started.” After Jimmy’s mournful turn, Swallow bends his notes bluesy, and Bley takes a theatrical interlude.

Bley goes solo on “Qualude,” working a walking bass line through some minor harmonies. The modal inventions that follow are pure Bley, some deceptively simple ideas the build into a complex off-kilter blues. Juanita Giuffre’s “Possibilities” starts with a rubbery throbbing Swallow and Giuffre making short statements on soprano. Bley plays the progression in a clipped style, before blowing it apart. Giuffre goes on one of his amazing solo excursions on “Tumbleweed,” a clarinet workout that includes extended techniques, vocals sounding like Italian operetta, and sweet bluesy musing.

Kern and Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are” gets a stiff intro from Bley and Giuffre, then Swallow enters in hyper-swing mode, and everyone gets on his bus. Bley manages to tweak his chords enough to keep it from being a totally straight interpretation. “Starts” continues Swallow’s solo exploration, this time less jaunty, less Spanish, but no less contrapuntal. The Gordon Jenkins composition, “Goodbye,” originally showed up on the trio’s second album for Verve, Thesis in 1961. Giuffre’s clarinet sings the sad song, with Swallow and Bley finishing his and each other’s phrases. Swallow’s unique bass approach creates a call and response role with the clarinet.

The long group improv “Bats in the Belfry” begins with a few lines from Giuffre on soprano that echo back from Bley and Swallow, and the variations commence. After various changes, Giuffre switches to clarinet, and in one sequence Bley sounds as if he’s playing prepared piano.

Congratulations to Owl/Sunnyside for reactivating this title, overlooked on its initial release. Hopefully, Diary of a Trio: Saturday, and Diary of a Trio: Sunday (recorded in 1990) are next.


Track Listing: Fly Away Little Bird; Fits; I Can

Personnel: Jimmy Giuffre, soprano sax, clarinet, voice; Paul Bley, piano; Steve Swallow, electric bass

Title: Fly Away Little Bird | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Owl Records


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