Columbia Records dropped Jimmy Giuffre following 1962’s experimental Free Fall, and he didn’t record another album for nine years. The period in-between has been called his “lost decade,” but the clarinetist-saxophonist kept busy. His forward vision fit right in at the New York Festival of the Avant Garde in 1965, even though he wasn’t completely aligned with the New Thing. Giuffre’s set from the festival was recorded and broadcast once on Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR-FM, along with a session done earlier in the year in a college auditorium. Both sets are being released as New York Concerts, heard for the first time since those broadcasts, and they present some missing pieces of the Giuffre puzzle.
That year, Giuffre added drums to Free Fall‘s chamber-group lineup of clarinet, piano and bass. He also dusted off his tenor saxophone, playing it with a liberated attitude that made his Woody Herman tune “Four Brothers” little more than a distant memory. He can’t be confused with Albert Ayler on the instrument, but it does add rough-and-tumble textures to his arsenal.
New York Concerts goes in reverse chronology, which makes sense musically because the later trio recording would sound bare after the quartet. Giuffre teams up with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers on the former. Loose but focused, there are wide-open spaces in the music, car-horn growls from Giuffre and an extension of the chamber aesthetic of his previous albums. For the one non-original, Ornette Coleman’s “Crossroads,” the clarinet’s mid-range trills and high long tones indicate that Giuffre knows how to handle the freedom that comes with the music. Davis occasionally moves parallel to his bandmates, yet he uses the experience of the previous year’s Out to Lunch! session to hold things together. Chambers, who had been studying atonal music at American University, brings that knowledge to bear in pieces that use him as part of the composition rather than as a simple timekeeper.
On the earlier session, Giuffre and Chambers team up with bassist Barre Phillips and pianist Don Friedman. The piano adds some harmonic sense to the four tunes that overlap from the festival set, but things still feel obtuse. In fact, free of any audience scrutiny, there are moments when things wander. On the plus side, the rapid full-group interactions of “Three Bars in One” evoke Cecil Taylor’s “Cell Walk for Celeste.” “Cry, Want” also shows that the composer hadn’t completely forsaken the blues in his writing. Both sets offer lost treasures and new appreciation of an adventurous mind.