1000 Jazz Albums You Really Ought To Hear – 0003 : Jimmy Giuffre Trio – Free Fall

Columbia Legacy

1962 (vinyl)/1999(CD)

  • Jimmy Giuffre – Clarinet
  • Paul Bley – Piano
  • Steve Swallow – Double Bass

In the early 1960s the contemporaries to this album, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, were reinventing jazz in their own inimitable way, usually more brutal, often spiritual, and sometimes political. Giuffre’s approach to the music came from a totally different perspective than his peers. This is an album of considered, introspective, and often gentle music. It could be described as “freely improvised chamber jazz”.

This album has been cited as one of the most revolutionary recordings to come out of the 1960s. It was largely ignored when it was first released, hindsight reveals it to be a ground-breaking masterpiece.

Giuffre  created  a “microtonal” revolution ignored by other avant-gardists in jazz at the time. On “Free Fall”, Giuffre,  Paul Bley, and Steve Swallow embarked on a voyage even farther-reaching than their previous albums , reaching a creative peak with this recording.

The new approach was delivered through “pointillistic” harmony, whereby different musical notes are made in seclusion, rather than in a linear sequence, this is supported by open-toned playing, and phrasing using slight variations; through this method,  new platforms for solo or group improvisation are realised.

The original album comprised five clarinet solos, two duets for clarinet and bass, and three trio pieces. The CD reissue added five more clarinet solos to the set.

This album establishes Giuffre as a master of the idiom of, not only jazz free improvisation, but also as a ground breaking  interpreter of musical language. This is language that was originally utilised by the ancient Greeks and, developed in the 19th and 20th Century by the likes of Feldman, Stockhausen and Debussey.  Microtonal music has since been adopted by the likes of Wendy Carlos, Aphex Twin and Radiohead, as well as a large school of european free jazz players.

Giuffre’s solo clarinet pieces  are exercises in layering. Unique phrasing is used to create new sounds.  The group interactions intertwine chromatic pointillism between one instrument and the next, without relying on the conventions of harmony, rhythm, or melody.

Free Fall was such radical music, no one, was ready for it and the group disbanded shortly after it’s release.

The album presents a series of captivating explorations which require concentration but deliver a unique listening experience. Often melancholic, sometimes brisk and startling, the overall feel of the album is both measured and exploratory.

Quietly revolutionary this music was the culmination of the “Third Stream” movement and also paved the way for a younger generation of radicals, especially within the European jazz scene.