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Giardullo/Sullivan/Thompson - Language Of Swans

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Artist: Giardullo/Sullivan/Thompson

Album: Language Of Swans

Label: Drimala

Review date: Jan. 12, 2003

Giardullo Gets Accessible

Saxophonist/flutist/clarinetist Joe Giardullo has spent much of the last few years exploring the notes in between the notes – his approach to pitch has been defined by glissandi and intentionally “out of tune” playing. And his rhythmic approach on his recent LPs, including Specific Gravity with Joe McPhee, Primal Intentions with Mike Bisio, and his outstanding quartet date Shadow and Light, has been similarly open-ended. His playing has been filled with weighty, suspended-time pauses and phrases whose movement from note to note depends more on the individual phrase’s logic than on any predetermined steady beat.

Like his other recent LPs, much of Language of Swans seems to be freely improvised. At first glance, though, it seems to have little else in common with its predecessors. The pitch content of Giardullo’s playing is unusually straightforward for him – he generally sticks to the twelve tones of the octave used in most Western music. And the circling polyrhythms often employed by bassist Chris Sullivan and drummer/pianist Michael Thompson are also fairly regular, as much of the album is based on lulling, unassuming grooves.

On the surface, then, Language of Swans is a departure from much of Giardullo’s recent work. On a deeper level, though, while Giardullo’s approach has changed, his values haven’t. To my ears, his previous open-ended style reflected the influence of Middle- and Far Eastern music from Egypt to Japan. After all, microtones – the notes between the notes – have always been prominent in all sorts of non-Western traditional music. And Giardullo’s loose phrasing and his use of pauses both have ties to the East.

Language of Swans is more conventionally jazzy than the rest of Giardullo’s recent work, but in a secondhand way, it also shares characteristics with much non-Western music. His melodic lines are more traditional on this album, but they’re also slurred and stepwise in a way that recalls classical Arabic music. His wide-open approach to rhythm remains intact, even with Sullivan and Thompson playing more consistent beats than Giardullo’s earlier collaborators. And the way he overblows on bass clarinet reminds me more of Tuvan throat singing than Eric Dolphy.

So Language of Swans isn’t so much a departure as a reorientation, and it allows us to hear the most essential elements of Giardullo’s style, like his relaxed sense of phrasing and his introverted style of presentation, in a context that’s far more accessible than he’s been in the past. The album even contains a lush, romantic piano ballad (“A Tear For The Missing”) and an old-school free jazz blowout (“Migrations"). Anyone intrigued by Giardullo but turned off by his use of microtonality or the sparseness of his playing would do well to start with Language of Swans.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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