Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and The River (live at Newport, 1958)

On its face, the Jimmy Giuffre 3 playing their signature contrapuntal folk-jazz opus "The Train and The River" seems an oddly low-key opener for Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. For that matter, Giuffre's drummerless chamber jazz seemed as ill-suited to the NJF's open-air park on a balmy summer afternoon as a string quartet at Yankee Stadium. Yet the filmmaker's instinct proved canny. By not showing the musicians until two minutes into the performance, Stern not only teases us with an appealing tune underneath his main titles, but actually builds suspense as to when or even if the players will appear onscreen. Finally they do, and in close-up at that—so close up, in fact, that guitarist Jim Hall goes unseen until the track concludes and he rises to take a bow. Otherwise, Stern holds a single shot of Giuffre bobbing and weaving with his tenor sax, as Bob Brookmeyer hovers behind him in a supporting role, for a remarkable 2½ minutes.

Rendering this piece on the previous year's CBS telecast The Sound of Jazz, Giuffre's trio consisted of clarinet/sax, guitar and bass. Six months later, the bass had been replaced by valve trombone, creating one of the most unusual instrumentations in jazz history. While the audio on this 2004 CD is erratic (it sounds better on the actual movie soundtrack), anyone wishing to concentrate on the music can do so sans artsy images of reflections in marina water. With or without pictures, "The Train and The River" is one of the finest 1950s jazz compositions, and this live performance on the 4th of July glitters like the first sparklers at twilight.

March 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and the River (Sound of Jazz, 1957)

In the mid-'50s, Jimmy Giuffre was a fixture of West Coast jazz, playing reeds in the prevailing cool style and writing experimentally. In 1956, when America's folkie craze sprouted, Giuffre formed a folk-jazz trio and recorded his signature "The Train and the River." A year later, taped at a rehearsal for CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz, a longer, snappier "Train" winds and shifts fugally like a railway hugging the contours of a serpentine stream—but so quietly it wouldn't disturb a slumbering katydid. Unhurried, reflective, constantly changing moods and shifting focus, this is chamber jazz at its finest.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments


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