Hans Koller with Bill Frisell - "Nocturne" (Cry, Want)
Evan Parker’s Psi label isn’t often the place to find interpretations of jazz tunes of yore, but the title track to this new Hans Koller record is just that. The album is dedicated to its composer, the excellent and still underappreciated windsman Jimmy Giuffre, who died in 2008. Koller’s dedication labels Giuffre a quiet revolutionary — an apt descriptor to be sure. Anyone who hasn’t heard his early 1960s trio with Steve Swallow and Paul Bley is in for a beautiful surprise. Cry, Want captures some of Giuffre’s characteristic restraint and pantonal idiom, but Koller transcends homage, imbuing the album with his own voice.
The title track distills the virtues of Koller’s ensemble writing and arrangements. Originally released on the aforementioned trio’s 1961 album Fusion, the wistful tune’s clarinet line is given to Bill Frisell. He renders it with grace and humility, as he does every note he plays throughout the album. His ghost tones, luscious stereo panning and rich but transparent harmonics imply as much harmony as they state, giving additional impact to the full ensemble’s entrance. Restraint is indeed on offer, as muted trumpets bolstered by cool winds and brass finish out the head. Frisell’s ensuing solo shares colors with Koller’s electric piano, which he handles expertly throughout. It’s gratifying to hear someone who has not forgotten how to use the volume pedal. Most interesting of all, and unexpected, is Evan Parker’s solo. Eschewing his own language in favor of a sparer approach, he emphasizes expertly the myriad chromatic and rhythmic possibilities the ensemble is unfolding beneath him. If Gil Evans’ influence is palpable on Koller’s arrangements, I can also hear more recent history, even encompassing Henry Threadgill’s use of controlled dissonance.
Koller’s own compositions, of which six are included here, show his allegiances to modernity in a post-tonal context, and this is where his ensemble plays an integral part. “Nocturne”’s staggered melody and jagged rhythms are rendered vividly, the muted trumpets of Percy Pursglove and Robbie Robson working especially well on this mid-tempo stroll. Then, there are drummer Jeff Williams’ rhetorical and timbral intricacies, most noticeable on the whimsical “Riff Raff,” where he goes from swing to Latin in a heartbeat, but with extraordinary subtlety. Anchoring the whole experience, bassist Dave Whitford is rock solid, but he’s also a master of color. He and bass trombonist Sarah Williams sound as one instrument on the enigmatic “Hermetique,” and his contrapuntal musings, with Frisell and Koller, on Charlie Parker’s “Quasimoto” are exquisite.
This is one of those rare discs that would please lovers of multiple traditions, and the excellent recording brings out all of its good points. It’s a nice bit of diversification to Psi’s excellent catalog.