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January/February 2007

Burton Greene Trio
Ins and Outs
CIMP Recordings
Burton Greene Quintet
Signs of the Times
CIMP Recordings

Though his profile may not be that of Cecil Taylor or even Andrew Hill, 69-year-old pianist Burton Greene has been—very arguably—just as proficient and uncompromising. While Taylor favors completely free improv, Greene, like Hill, opts for angular and even exotic composition with wide-open spaces designed for maximum exploration. Nevertheless, the end result for all these artists is the same: total artistic expression unhindered by outside pressure. From his mid-’60s ESP albums to his recent output on CIMP, he’s shown a mastery of a myriad of styles, textures and moods. With this in mind, CIMP asked Greene to record three consecutive and varied sessions (for solo, trio and quintet) in the summer of 2005.

Ins and Outs is as much of a basic piano trio as Greene will ever record. For this session—as well as the following quintet recordings—he asked Gunther Schuller’s sons, bassist Ed and drummer George, to join him. The Schuller brothers have been playing together for all of their adult lives (over 30 years), which shows in their uncanny rapport and solid command of diverse styles and techniques, undoubtedly the result of having Gunther as their father and mentor. The material here ranges from the playful jauntiness of opener “Skumpy” (originally a solo composition from 1985) to the pure bebop of “63rd and Cottage Grove” (a Bud Powell-influenced bop rondo dating back to 1957); from the mysterious ambiguity of Gary Burton’s ballad “Gentle Wind and Falling Tear” (a harmonically challenging piece that never resolves) to the closing coda “Summation” (an instantaneous exchange that, in six minutes, revisits the vast emotional ground covered throughout the session). Greene plays with clarity and conviction, perfectly complemented by his sympathetic rhythm section, resulting in an unpredictable yet extremely cohesive piano trio.

On Signs of the Times, the triad is augmented by Paul Smoker on trumpet and Russ Nolan on soprano and tenor saxophones and flute. The same spirit flows through these sessions, though now doused with brass color. The album commences with “Afro Balkan Blue,” a stunning rhythmic exercise that blends Eastern European folk melodies—in alternating bars of 7/8 and 4/4—with a 22 bar blues pattern, an effect similar to some of the territory explored on Coltrane’s Africa/Brass. On “Sad Mood,” by Greene’s partner Syl Rollig, the contemplative, expressive nature of Nolan’s flute and Smoker’s muted trumpet stand out. The rest of the pieces are marked by exceptional group interaction and intriguing melodic motifs reminiscent of the post-modern classical composers Greene studied in the ’50s, adding up to yet another impressive recording in a very solid career.

Originally published in January/February 2007
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