Frank Glover: Abacus

In a recent interview, composer Frank Glover complained about “a giant gap between improvisation and contemporary classical composition…we don’t even have the words to describe the music that falls in that gap.” He seems to have forgotten the Third Stream explorations of the Fifties — Gunther Schuller, John Lewis, Teo Macero, George Russell, Charles Mingus, Bob Graettinger — even overlooked the efforts of George Gershwin, three decades earlier, who put a tuxedo on jazz and brought it into the concert hall. More importantly, Glover ignored the original pioneer, Arcangelo Corelli, who (ca. 1680) created the concerto grosso: a small ensemble within a large orchestra – precisely what Abacus is all about. So chill, Frank…the gap is not that large; the words are really there.

Now regarding his new release, it’s a masterful mosaic of moods, motifs and metaphysics. The jazz is provided by Kilho, the collective name of the quartet that is fused with a 25-piece symphonic orchestra. Members of Kilho include Glover, alternating between clarinet and soprano sax; pianist/keyboardist Zach Lapidus; acoustic & electric bassist Jack Helsley; and drummer/percussionist Dave Scalia.

The 46-minute piece opens quietly in the form of an introspective, echo-type dialog between piano and soprano. When the orchestra enters, the voicings are reminiscent of Gil Evans. The second track evokes the sound of Respighi, the way he captured the loneliness of a clarinet against low orchestral clusters in his Roman tone poems. The title track and “Domino,” which follow without pause, are dominated by marimba arpeggios and, particularly in “Domino,” a feeling of free jazz from Kilho.”Ballerina,” the loveliest of the movements, subtly evolves into a tango as strings rhythmically nudge pianist Lapidus. When horms enter, the Piazzolla palate dissipates.

Final sections (again, no pauses): “Lighthouse: features sensitive playing by electric bass over contrasting dissonant chords; “Modern Times” makes use of a well-controlled crescendo, in 5/4, but never climaxes; it simply becomes a slow, bluesy 4/4 for some of Glover’s most soulful blowing; “Salamanca” starts out Latin, includes a long, long pedal point on E-flat, goes through brief, variegated episodes, then finally morphs into “Robot” with repetitious motifs until it winds down, literally and slowly, at the very end where it seems to be tuned lower. The writing throughout is picaresque; the playing outstanding.