Jimmy Giuffre: Cry Freedom
“Paul was such an avid listener. You’d be at a nightclub, and he knew how to get into a club. Somehow he would get in without paying. Wonderful! He would just show up. He was such a talent and I think Jimmy, when he decided to do the trio had people in mind and he’d met Steve and Steve and Paul had begun a friendship, so that’s when it started.
“They all got together and toured Germany for about a month, then their recordings happened and that was the end of it. Columbia decided to shelve it after so many months. They really weren’t into it. There was one guy there who really did have a forward look. He was influential for a time and wanted Jimmy to record so it happened. But after awhile the big guys said, 'this isn’t showing enough action.' That’s when Freefall was recorded, and those people were scratching their heads and actually I had named the album Yggdrasil, the Nordic name for the Tree of the Universe. Of course, I did the cover for it, because I was painting then. They decided, the art director decided, this is way too difficult for anyone to understand, and they made the painting I did into a tiny little postage stamp and then they had Paul, Steve, and Jimmy floating through space and called it Free Fall. I think a book was out at that time called Free Fall. "
The trio recorded two albums for Verve before signing with Columbia, Fusion, and Thesis. These have been reissued by ECM under the title 1961. Neither provoked the reaction that Freefall did. Perhaps tinged with the mysticism of La Violette, Giuffre’s poetic notes frame free improvisation as a spiritual quest, an idea that would a few years later be shared by many musicians. Little surprise that the Giuffres would count Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Campbell as friends. The album opens with the first of five unaccompanied clarinet improvisations, and Giuffre terminates the perception of the clarinet as an anachronism. The aptly titled “Propulsion” cries to freedom and flies out of the cage on a mad tear across the range of the clarinet. There’s no telling where Giuffre's going, but it’s a wild ride with that beautiful tone, that becomes a braying mule, moves into classical counterpoint, then takes back off into the stratosphere.
“Threewe” introduces the first group improvisation, and after months of playing together they perform like they’ve tapped into one mind. Bley’s light touch gives him a playful roll of the hand, and at times he reaches into the piano and plays the strings manually. At different points Giuffre’s phrasing creates implied rhythm. They use silence, Swallow scrapes his strings, Giuffre uses multiple voicings to suggest chords. On "Ornothoids,” Giuffre uses a loose embouchure that gets minimal intonation, and tightens up for some very high notes. On “Dichotomy,” he seems to use circular breathing for long tones held in duet with Swallow. As critics at the time called Giuffre’s music “arid” and “austere,” how could they have been immune to the rich emotional information packed into the 2:18 of “Man Alone,” or the humor in the trio’s “Spasmodic?” This is the same guy who recorded “Martians Go Home” with Shorty Rogers, after all.
The title track features Jimmy blowing solo through scales before using a sharp intonation followed by his breathy tones. “The Five Ways” ended the original album with a ten minute suite using five themes, each played once to launch the free improvisations. Ornette Coleman released his first record in 1959. Albert Ayler’s first album was still a year away. With the majority of the country watching “Ozzie and Harriett” and listening to Bobby Rydell, you know Jimmy faced a struggle.
“A lot of people hated it,” Mrs. Giuffre explains. “As a matter of fact when we got to Europe some of the more traditional audiences were quite unhappy with some of the newer music, specifically France. If you were going to get an audience it would have been in Europe. Eventually, people in Europe really cared for what he was doing much more, and still write him and keep in touch. So, he got a lot of tours out of Europe with the avant-garde thing. They were much more receptive, but every now and then you’d run into an audience who expected to hear “Train and a River,” or “Four Brothers,” and the people who came to hear that part of his life, or that part of his music, would be very disappointed. But Europe was far more accepting than this country. As a matter of fact some jazz musician... I was listening to the radio station one night. Jimmy had just put out Free Fall right about that time, and he called it ‘non-music.’ I was rather surprised they were actually putting it down in very definite ways. Jimmy was a visionary.