Gerald Cleaver / Veil of Names: Adjust (2001)
Calling this one of 2001's most surprising , refreshing and simply best releases is not as intrepid an estimation as it may seem, since it was one of three nominees by the Jazz Journalists' Association for Recording Debut of their jazz year (April 15, 2001 - April 15, 2002). Splitting his prodigious talents between the gigging/recording and academic worlds, Detroit (and U Michigan)'s Gerald Cleaver, who's already made his mark in straight and avant camps, makes a powerful debut with the risk-taking, thrill-seeking Adjust. While associations with Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and Matthew Shipp seem formidable indeed, I doubt Gerald could possibly surpass the all-star cast of inside-outside players assembled here, under the moniker "Veil of Names," for fulfillment of his compositional and interplay-stressing concept.
On "Way Truth Life," Mat Maneri's clean viola intertwines with Andrew Bishop's sweet clarinet over Reid Anderson's LaFaro-esque swinging/singing bass line after a gorgeously volume-swelled, arpeggiated, signature intro by guitarist Ben Monder. This turns into a motif-filled, airily grooving feature for Anderson's cavernous tone over Monder's covert comping. Maneri and Bishop restate the theme before Monder solos cleanly and gracefully over organ twitches provided by Craig Taborn. Listen to Monder's precise, yet casual, command of post-bop phraseology in context, not only of his place in this unit, but his place, if you will, in the overall scene. It's a niche similar to Cleaver's- one part established in more conventional harmonic forms, the other equally seasoned and adept in "newer" musics most associated with the avant-garde. One can only conclude that he is a player possessing not solely amazing gifts, but unerring judgment and an involved, yet discerning, refinement.
Note Taborn's "spooky" comping technique here-not many other colorists are paying this much attention. That goes double for Cleaver, who here and throughout, somehow talks to everybody in the room while being the host of the party. The drums flirt and associate with every instrument while holding down the nasty groove. Maneri even finds room in the mix to throw in distorted, wah-wah-guitar-like accents - spurring Monder into the stratosphere. The drums step out in front of the piece, stirring it frenetically, polyrhythmically into a vortex, until, it sounds, they literally blow out the board.
"Chinese Radio" finds Maneri's viola and Bishop's clarinet introing the piece as if they've been playing together for years - Maneri quavering, then splicing in double stops amid hammering against the fingerboard. Anderson enters on electric bass, whereupon badass grooving ensues, punctuated by double-timed drumming sections and unison riffing. Turn up the flow to hear Cleaver's explosivity on the kit before Bishop enters to show he can hang "Downtown" as a clarinetist. Maneri then exhibits his ferocity, effortlessly spicing his daunting shred factor with longer, held tones between the notes. It helps these ears greatly that Maneri, known as a microtonal avant-gardist, makes strong reference to inside inflections in his playing before evolving, expanding and stretching into these 'tweened tonalities. Taborn then snaps us collectively to attention with a thrillingly staccato organ solo over wildly splaying/spraying drums and herky-jerky bass. What A & R guy (likely candidate-possibly Thirsty Ear's Mr. Shipp) is going to make his fortune by compelling Taborn to make a groove-heavy electric record for the masses? Additional testimony comes in his bluesy Rhodes feature over spare accompaniment throughout "Force of Habit," another of the set's emotional high points.
"Sight" functions as a deep-space intro to "Veil," which splices a live-sequenced clarinet/organ whistle/spacey guitar and violin intro into a Headhunter sway, complete with Bishop's clarinet voyaging in Maupinesque fashion over the groove, replaced by bassy tenor drones over Jacksonesque looping bass and bootylicious organ. Maneri and Monder even provide counterpoint "section" work. The M's then freak out Dixieland style before Cleaver seemingly takes the tune out in machine-like fashion. This actually precedes five more minutes of glorious tail and tale-spinning by organ, guitar, and viola-overflowing your headphones and your headspace with more of the fascinating twists and turns, sonic density and dimension that characterize this effort.
As alluded to in the liner notes, the innovative harmonic and textural masters assembled here lend so fully of their talents to this project to constitute not merely realization of the leader's, or even the collective's, vision for these compositions on paper, but transcend it with a communal spirit of synthesis so deft, so magical, as could be labeled alchemy.
Track Listing: 1. Hover, 2. The Wheat and the Tares, 3. Force of Habit,4. Way Truth Life, 5. Chinese Radio, 6. Sight, 7. Veil
Personnel: Gerald Cleaver ?drums, percussion, Ben Monder-guitar, Mat Maneri-viola, Andrew Bishop-tenor sax, clarinet, Craig Taborn- organ, Rhodes, keyboards, Reid Anderson-acoustic and electric bass