Giuffre-Tastic Jazz

wolfert-brederodeWolfert Brederode Quartet Currents (ECM)

Sixteen years ago, while working for a music magazine in New York City, a CD came across my desk that immediately caught my attention. The album was 1961, a compilation of two albums from the titular year, Fusion and Thesis, by the Jimmy Giuffre 3, a mid-'60s jazz trio whose line-up included bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley. But what caught my attention was that the group had no drummer, unusual for small jazz combos, and was led, also unusually, by a clarinetist named Jimmy Giuffre (who, I sadly noted while working on this review, passed away just this past April).

What really threw me, though in a pleasant way, was that unlike every other clarinetist I'd ever heard, Giuffre didn't play in that New Orleans/upbeat kind of way. Instead, his style was slower, more careful, and almost darkly atmospheric, which, coupled with the equally sparse playing of Bley and Swallow, made the album as hauntingly beautiful as it was unusual.

I mention this because something similar happened recently. Granted, some of the details are different - I now work from home, in Los Angeles, and it was MP3s in my email - but the effect was strangely similar. On this debut album from the Wolfert Brederode Quartet, we once again have a bassist, Mats Ellertsen, a pianist, Brederode, and a clarinetist, Claudio Puntin, all of whom play with the dark, methodical approach of the J.G.3.

This is different from 1961, since there's also a drummer, Samuel Rohrer. But while one might expect the inclusion of percussion to make this more aggressive, even if only slightly, that's actually not the case. Like his band mates, Rohrer also uses a light touch, playing sporadically and often with brushes, which merely adds another layer of atmosphere to the music, as opposed to adding rhythm. Because of this, such tunes as “Frost Flower” and “Common Fields” sound as if they'd fit just fine on 1961, with all of Currents having a similar chamber music-like quality.

There are even times when Puntin's playing almost sounds more like a flute than a clarinet. But, again, his playing is always moody, even when he plays in short, quick bursts instead of longer ones - as he does on “Scarabee.”

Of course, given that the group is the Wolfert Brederode Quartet, and not the Claudio Puntin Experience, there are times - such as during the song “High & Low” - when the piano takes the lead. But even then, the band's mellow approach and spare technique remains, and thus the album's already haunting beauty is continued.

As with all mood music, though, you have to be in the right mood for this music. Listening to it on a sunny day, this nearly hour-long album seemed a bit too long (though no single song stood out as extraneous or weak). But played late at night, when all was quiet (and most of my neighbors were asleep), the album drifted along perfectly.

Some jazz fans, especially those of music that's more loose or improvised-sounding, might also feel Brederode’s music is a bit too planned and sterile-sounding. Which it kind of is, but that's also kind of part of the appeal, since improv jamming wouldn't really have fit the album's overall atmosphere. Besides, if I want to listen to something looser, I've got plenty of Coltrane, Miles, Rollins, etc.

In the years after 1961 came across my desk, the Jimmy Giuffre 3's other album, 1962's Free Fall, was reissued, and two live albums were culled from German radio broadcasts: Emphasis, Stuttgart 1961 and Flight, Bremen 1961 (a third radio show, from Graz, Austria, can be downloaded off the web if you know where to look). If Currents is any indication, I hope Brederode, Ellertsen, Puntin, and Rohrer will get together just as much, if not more. - Paul Semel

Wolfert Brederode Quartet - Currents

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Mr. Semel has been a music critic for more than eighteen years, and a jazz lover even longer.

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