Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

Gerald Cleaver: Five of His Best Recordings

Listening to a Motor City master

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Matthew Shipp’s New Orbit (Thirsty Ear, 2001)

Arriving near the outset of the Shipp-curated Blue Series, which explored the overlap between the pianist’s forward-thinking jazz and the more experimental side of electronic music, this quartet disc features Cleaver, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and frequent Shipp partner William Parker on bass. The result is spare and focused, with Cleaver at his most coloristic.

Gerald Cleaver’s Detroit (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2008)

Cleaver revisits his roots in a session that delves into his native city’s broad-shouldered postbop heritage. Joined by saxophonists JD Allen and Andrew Bishop, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, pianist Ben Waltzer and bassist Chris Lightcap, Cleaver deftly displays his integration of deep-pocket swing and avant-garde invention, evoking the mean streets and rich history of the Motor City through lean, rough-hewn grooves.

Farmers by Nature (AUM Fidelity, 2009)

Recorded at the Stone in the summer of 2008, this collective trio outing evolves gradually over the course of an hour-long free improvisation. The East Village venue’s intimacy comes through in the band’s close-knit communication, which never deteriorates into mindless blowing. Instead, each moment unfolds logically and intuitively from the last.

Be It As I See It (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2011)

Performed by a band named for Cleaver’s father, this ambitious work was inspired by the Great Migration of African-Americans from south to north. Equal parts AACM-style “ancient to the future” jazz and musique-concrète collage, the album is a deeply personal, panoptic take on musical and cultural history featuring pianist Craig Taborn, saxophonist Tony Malaby and violist Mat Maneri, among others.

Chants (ECM, 2013)

The debut release by Taborn’s current trio is a prismatic stunner, building on the vocabulary that Taborn and Cleaver have been developing since they met at the University of Michigan in the late 1980s. The trio, also featuring bassist Thomas Morgan, crafts elusive forms from an almost hidden architecture, expansive and recursive, delicate yet powerful.

Originally Published