I can listen to Lee Morgan playing all day, every day. Same with Coltrane, Wes Montgomery and Mingus.
But every once and a while, I like to listen to the unusual jazz albums, those with the uncommon sound that doesn’t come from Free-Jazz/Avantguard, bebop or swing fields.
Take for example the wonderful Wes Montgomery album Bumpin’ (recorded for Verve), that present an amazing guitar player with a heavy strings arrangement, it’s so beautiful, rich precised and thrilling.
Take Miles‘ Sketched Of Spain, arranged by Bill Evans. The first played with a rare poetic emotion, the folky Spanish melodies while the later sew a big band around him, that remains minor, not taking the focus, while providing a crucial support to the music.
Same with the wonderful album of Fred Longberg-Holm, that introduces the cello as a dominant instrument into the jazz, and it’s a fun album to return to.
This time, we’ll discuss another unusual jazz album with an uncommon sound in the jazz area – Western Suit by Jimmy Guiffre.
Guiffre, a sax and clarinet player is the name signed on this album, but it’s hard to imagine this wonderful creation (assembled by 4 pieces) – Western Suit, played by other people.
In his previous album The Jimmy Guiffre 3 he credited the band as the main artist behind the recording, but on Western, it was him going solo. It’s a bit unfair but you can forgive him. Jim Hall, the wonderful guitarist who doesn’t sound like any other, turned to the guitar to a multifunctional instrument; A Leading voice, accompanied guitar, rhythm and all through fascinating soulful phrases.
Hall was there in the past, but while the previous trio had Ralf Puna on double bass, this recording doesn’t have one and Guiffre had a terrific idea – bass parts will be played by a trombone. And who will do a better job then Bob Brookmeyer.
Now imagine three skinny white boys, in 1958, when Ornett was just around the corner with his “The Shape Of Jazz To Come”, and couple of minutes Coltrane will come and destroy all the remains – the three skinnies dare to release an album like that. Not bebop, not free, not swing – a terrific recipe for a commercial disaster.
A trombone meets guitar and bring New-Orleans elements, along with blues and southern Americana. In another era, Guiffre might have been called “Blind Mississippi Jimmy” or something like that, because his soul is so authentic black, and manages to merge a snobbish observation about music, with some dirt in the shoes, sweat in the armpit and ooh lordy, lordy – it’s a hard hard life.
Western Suit was written and recorded in a time Guiffre felt he’s about to die. He was right. He did die. In 2008. But he did have lots of time (50 years!) to think about this matter while listening to the faretheewell album he wrote for himself.
The person we’re saying goodbye to in Western isn’t clear. The sadness that might be reflected in an album of goodbye blue sky, isn’t present here. It’s bluesy but simultaneously contains strange cheerful mood, that might be coming from Brookmeyer’s trombone player. I like trombones. It makes me lough for some reason.
The Interplay between Hall who doesn’t take the focus for once (even in places it sounds as if he’s banging on the guitar to get the tribal-percussive effect), and Brookmeyer who plays undertow lines of bass parts – leaves Guiffre to himself, and put the giant responsibility of a bandleader on his shoulders.
But surprisingly enough, Guiffre puts his ego aside and gives all the band members the opportunity to be themselves totally, each one as a crucial part of the music. That’s why I’m somewhat surprised he didn’t name the album on all three.
But this is not the point, the point is that during the fantastic 37 minutes this album lasts, there’s an interesting vibe hovering above, that takes the blues from its natural place, and opens a slit to a picky curiosity, integrating but not penetrating, serious but doesn’t take itself as such, tight yet so so loose.
The second track in the album, Topsy, they really touch dixieland/New Orleans style and you can call it ‘the typical jazz piece of the album’ – though it’s not typical at all. It bounces between bass lines played on the guitar, to enriched colorful augmented chords and beautiful structures. Guiffre with terrific verbal solos and Brookmeyer in the back, taking the double bass part.
The ‘traditional’ piece in the album ‘Blue Monk‘ is a laid back version, full with an old and wise attitude.
This is indeed the kind of records that you need to be in a certain mood to digest, understand and enjoy them. Not that it’s hard listening, on the contrary, it’s the most familiar music you can think of (blues, Americana, dixieland), it doesn’t have stunts but it does have something very interesting with the lack of drums/bass and that’s what make the album so different in color and texture, just like the choice of three white men who came to play southern music, a place they may have only heard of.
The soundtrack of hard labor have never echoed so beautiful, and of all of a sudden, the smell of sweat mixed with coal, appears like a romantic choice for life.