Michael Garrick Trio - "Sketches of Israel" (Moonscape)
It’s a truism in the jazz world that the rarer a record is, the larger its reputation as a “lost classic” is. Rarity also inflates prices of said artifacts (with eBay further skewing the value), and as the price grows, so again does the rhetoric of legend. The debut album from British pianist Michael Garrick is just such a record. Recorded in London in 1964 and pressed in a single run of 99 10-inchers, Moonscape quickly disappeared into the mists of collectordom, fetching at times nearly $4,000. Trunk has now re-pressed this rarity on limited-edition vinyl and CD, so now listeners get to decide for themselves just how “classic” it is.
First impressions suggest that the 22 minutes of music here don’t add up to legendary status. The six pieces do resonate with the sounds in the air at the time, offering up a neat cross-section of piano approaches. The mournful “Sketches of Israel” (based on a poem by Jeremy Robson) is all Bill Evans lyricism, ebbing and flowing with group melodic invention. Bassist Dave Green and drummer Colin Barnes make “Man, Have you ever Heard” swing darkly yet gently, while Garrick rides a left-hand chord cadence straight from McCoy Tyner’s handbook.
But Garrick and company aren’t simply mimicking; they seem to have absorbed these styles and are attempting to fuse them into something new. At times this attempt feels stiff, like when Garrick adds dissonant clusters into the blues voicings and nervous pulse of “Music for Shattering Supermarkets.” At other times, it succeeds. “A Face in the Crowd” (also based on a poem by Robson) mixes up knotty passages, drifting dialogue, aggressive forward motion and brief written parts into something greater than the sum of its parts.
Glimpses of what the trio may have been reaching for appear in the title track and in the near weightless “Take-Off.” Both pieces are short, but packed full of ideas and dynamic variation as they are, they feel longer. They start with the kind of diffuse interaction that, had it been recorded a few years later, might have resulted in high-energy blow-outs or the abstraction of non-idiomatic improv. The trio, however, is content to limit themselves to their chosen form, one seemingly inspired by the poetry they loved: a compact series of taut phrases, linked together into stanza-like sections, gradually layering on tightly controlled melodic and rhythmic inventions. The pieces display an arc not often found in jazz pieces, a sense that once they are over, the whole story remains in the listener’s head. Not the stuff of a jazz landmark perhaps, but certainly a noteworthy, out-of-the-way detour.