Jim Gailloreto | Jazz String Quintet

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Jazz: Crossover Jazz Classical: String Quartet Moods: Featuring Saxophone
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Jazz String Quintet

by Jim Gailloreto

Jazz String Quintet is an original blending of both jazz and classical music; written for string quintet and soprano sax. This CD features Grammy nominated jazz vocalist Kurt Elling.
Genre: Jazz: Crossover Jazz
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1. Witch Hunt JIm Gailloreto
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8:21 $0.99
2. Giant Steps Jim Gailloreto
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4:51 $0.99
3. Justina with Strings Jim Gailloreto
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17:19 $0.99
4. Fair Weather Jim Gailloreto
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7:35 $0.99
5. Shadow Puppets Jim Gailloreto
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6. Infant Eyes Jim Gailloreto
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8:17 $0.99
7. Universal Soul Jim Gailloreto
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4:23 $0.99
8. Spare Change Jim Gailloreto
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14:49 $0.99
9. Admit One Jim Gailloreto
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Strings with jazz?

Many listeners think that this hybrid emerged in the 50s, when Charlie Parker first cushioned his cyclonic alto improvisations with a complement of violins but in fact, the idea dates back to Paul Whiteman’s orchestra of the late 20s, making it almost as old as jazz itself. It has had a speckled history (at best): the intent has almost always been to “sweeten” or “ennoble” jazz’s gritty textures, using lushly arranged string sections or entire symphonic orchestras, and you can count on both hands those attempts that rise above mediocrity to create something memorable.

But a few jazz musicians, and even some classical composers, have worked with a smaller palette, combining horn improvisations with string quartet to an inversely greater effect. The attractiveness of such a fusion jumps out at anyone familiar with both formats: the string quartet is classical music’s equivalent of the basic jazz trio, in the sense that each exists as a compact, flexible self contained combo. And certainly, these earlier efforts by such giants as Bill Russo (writing for Lee Konitz), Max Roach, and more recently Steve Turre have set the stage for this latest attempt by the Chicago reedman Jim Gailloreto. (So has Chamber Blues, the expanded string quartet led by Gailloreto’s friend, the harmonica wizard Corky Siegel; for that matter, the String Quartets of Beethoven, and the earlier chamber ensembles of Mozart, have also helped shape Gailloreto’s thinking.)

But to my ear, no one has written string quartet music with such a firm grasp of both traditions. No jazz musician has dived so deep into the translucent pools of tonal color unique to the string quartet; on the other hand, no composer has shaped the structures and layered the phrases of the string quartet to so successfully accommodate full tilt improvisation. Go back to those early Charlie Parker recordings to hear how far we’ve come; Gailloreto’s writing integrates the horn and the strings in ways that Parker and more to the point, the writers hired to invent his string arrangements could only have dreamed about.

Then again, when it comes to the subject of musical invention, I’ve come to believe that Jim Gailloreto is always to be trusted.

In the first album under his own name (The Insider), the Chicago saxophonist used contemporary rhythms and altered harmonies to energize the standard modern jazz quintet. Then, on Shadow Puppets (his debut recording for the Naim label), he did a 180: with unfamiliar timbres and unorthodox compositional techniques, he forced himself out of the box and into a deep exploration of the creative process. (If you think that sounds a little mystical, you should hear the music.) And now, in expanding his reach to include the traditional string quartet of western classical music, he offers subtle yet significant alterations to produce a repertoire guaranteed to once again make people sit up and take note.

Many composers are all but hypnotized by the very sound of the violin family: the ancient, vocal, now passionate, now austere timbre of stringed instruments the world over. Gailloreto appreciates those sonorities as well as any. But he has a great deal more on his plate.

Start with the opening track, “Witch Hunt,” one of Wayne Shorter’s iconic compositions of the 1960s. Gailloreto plays the jaunty (but slightly eerie) theme on soprano sax, framed by a polyphonic bouquet in the strings. Bass lines, countermelodies, and ensemble passages twine around the melody, then in and out of Gailloreto’s subsequent solo, stretching the quartet to its full range from the cello’s low pizzicato to the violins’ trebly chords. The strings complement the soloist; all is right with the world. But then, about four and a half minutes into the performance, Gailloreto turns the tables. The saxophone plays a rolling repeated figure (in musical parlance, an ostinato), which underlies a section of thematic development for the strings. This leads to a return of the original melodic material, but now, it is the saxophone providing the accompaniment, instead of the other way around.

What a perfect introduction to the purpose of this project: to create a real fusion of jazz and classical techniques, as opposed to just soloist plus strings. And you can apply similar analysis to every piece here; each one will stand up to the scrutiny. Gailloreto’s medium throughout is the Chicago based HAWK Quartet, which gets its name from the first letters of its members’ surnames (Hughes, Agnor, Wedge, Kaeding). With these musicians, Gailloreto has crafted a chamber quintet that Debussy or Stravinsky could have utilized, but one that also yields fully to the different needs and responsibilities of an improvising medium.

Consider especially his extended suites: “Justina With Strings,” and “Spare Change” (the latter inspired by the sight of a homeless panhandler). Gailloreto refers to these as examples of “portrait writing,” in which he tries “to create a three dimensional musical portrait of a person’s entire life from birth to infancy to childhood, all the magic that happens, the beauty of it all, then the love and pain as one grows older and in the end, a sense of the beauty that took place.”

“Justina” has had a long and varied history, and remains a vital piece of Gailloreto’s musical life. The piece originally appeared in the repertoire of the Portable Quintet, the jazz band Gailloreto co led in the 80s; in fact, it served as the group’s extended signature piece. Later, when asked if he had any music to submit to the Revolution Ensemble (a genre bending Chicago orchestra that has also helped shape the music heard here), Gailloreto immediately lied “Yes”; almost as immediately thought of “Justina”; and went home to adapt the piece to strings, under the mentorship of the well respected composer and arranger Cliff Colnot. The result? An almost monumental piece of music: a loosely programmatic epic that dominates this recording in terms of both length and impact.

One more collaboration enhances this music’s solid pedigree in both the jazz and classical worlds the presence of vocalist Kurt Elling, who in fact introduced to Gailloreto both of the pieces on which he appears. Elling is no stranger to the demimonde of art songs, the semi operatic meeting of poetry and music that thrived throughout the 19th century in salons and recital halls: he regularly includes poetry in his live performances, sometimes set to music and sometimes as recitation, and in 2005 he was the mouthpiece for Walt Whitman on Fred Hersch’s song cycle recording Leaves Of Grass. “Universal Soul” proves especially powerful. On this track, Elling sings Coleman Barks’s translation of a short work by the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi; in the middle of the performance, they open up the piece, as Elling interpolates a second Rumi poem, with Gailloreto’s improvised commentary.

I’ve listened through to this album more than a dozen times now, and almost every encounter brings new insights, as well as renewed admiration for the nuts and bolts and the fine filigrees that mark Gailloreto’s craftsmanship. (And don’t even get me started on the essentially perfect pacing; to get an idea of what I mean, just listen to how “Shadow Puppets” picks up on “Fair Weather,” then washes into “Infant Eyes” in the program’s midsection.) That kind of precision and detail alone would recommend the music herein. But in a career extending back more than a quarter century, this Chicago saxist has never contented himself with mere showmanship. So even here, in the most technically ambitious and conceptually intrepid of the three albums under his own name, his virtuosity serves primarily to enhance his greater goal that of telling good stories.

This time, with a few strings attached.

Neil Tesser


Reviews


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Tom Wright, Delmark Artist and Chicago Symphony violist

The bridge from jazz to classical music starts here.
Jazz needs no extra help from classical music for creativity; it has always used anything cool. It's classical music that needs to pay attention to this unique effort. My favorites are the two Wayne Shorter treatments. Keeping the groove, but covering lots of territory, you get both the dreamy feel of the melodies and the harmonic adventures of this capable composer and saxophone player.

Paul Abella-Chicago Jazz Magazine

Ambitious might be a good word to describe latest on NAIM record.
Ambitious might be a good word to describe Jim
Gailloreto's latest on NAIM records. Usually, when
one decides to record with strings, it usually means
that strings will be added to a group, and the
featured artist can play pretty much what they would
have played under more usual circumstances. However,
on Jazz String Quartet, the strings ARE the rhythm
section, of sorts. The harmonies we're used to
hearing on a piano are now provided by the
arrangements of two violins, viola and cello. And it
makes for an interesting experience indeed.

Admittedly, I have a hard time calling this a jazz
album. While the jazz tunes do move like jazz tunes
might, the originals, without an original version to
draw inspiration, sound more like The Kronos Quartet,
with a talented saxophonist joining their ranks. This
is not meant to sound derogatory. Far from it, as a
matter of fact. But it isn't your average jazz album
by a long shot.

Those originals, while not exactly standard jazz fare,
are quite interesting. Gailloreto's willingness to
stretch well beyond the expected boundaries of jazz
has served him well here.

With that in mind, Jazz String Quartet is what music
critics call "a rewarding listen." As you hear the
album multiple times, layers begin to reveal
themselves, and what simply started off as an
interesting experiment turns into a truly exciting
disc.

Strangely enough, as those layers begin to reveal
themselves, the originals on this album become far
more fascinating than the jazz classics presented
here. Not because they're better, but because no
matter what you do with Giant Steps, it's still Giant
Steps. Not only is it a very difficult and structured
song, but there's also the legacy of John Coltrane's
masterful original hovering about. However, on less
familiar material, there are far fewer boundaries for
Gailloreto to have to deal with. The one exception to
this might be the arrangement of Wayne Shorter's
Infant Eyes, which takes awhile to unfold before the
familiar theme comes to the fore. When it finally
does, it seems more beautiful for the wait.

Frankly, this album will not be everybody's cup of
tea. Unlike more swinging and in your face efforts,
this album demands patience from its listener to fully
dig in to it. If you're in for a fairly challenging
record that doesn't sound like anything else in your
CD collection, grab this one.

Bill Harrison

Great writing, outstanding playing, evocative vibe
All those who think they've heard "jazz with strings", whether it is Charlie Parker's sessions or Turtle Island Quartet, need to hear this CD. The "cover" tunes have been arranged into full blown compositions which stand on their own - even if you don't know the original versions. The way the soprano is integrated into the traditional string quartet is nothing short of genius, and the boundary between "written" and "improvised" is subverted in the best possible way.

Patrick Ferreri

What beautiful music!
Jim Gailloreto's performance, his compositions, and the performance of his string quartet are so exquisite on this CD that this is one album that I will wear out (if it is possible to wear out a CD). His compositions are very modern and fresh, yet uniquely accessible. That is no doubt due to the fact that Jim is a natural melodist. For, no matter how exotic are his harmonies and melodic leaps, he always manages to instill in them a sense of beauty and grace. In addition to that, he creates captivating interest by his ability to employ rhythms and contrapuntal techniques. I love this album.
I have long wondered what it would sound like to hear a soprano saxophone (or any saxophone) played by a musician who is capable of playing any so-called "classical" music, but is playing Jazz oriented styles and textures, instead. In other words, his technique, intonation, sensitivity and creativity are of the highest order. Now, I know what is the end effect; it is wondrous music.

Patrick Ferreri

What beautiful music!
Jim Gailloreto's performance, his compositions, and the performance of his string quartet are so exquisite on this CD that this is one album that I will wear out (if it is possible to wear out a CD). His compositions are very modern and fresh, yet uniquely accessible. That is no doubt due to the fact that Jim is a natural melodist. For, no matter how exotic are his harmonies and melodic leaps, he always manages to instill in them a sense of beauty and grace. In addition to that, he creates captivating interest by his ability to employ rhythms and contrapuntal techniques. I love this album.
I have long wondered what it would sound like to hear a soprano saxophone (or any saxophone) played by a musician who is capable of playing any so-called "classical" music, but is playing Jazz oriented styles and textures, instead. In other words, his technique, intonation, sensitivity and creativity are of the highest order. Now, I know what is the end effect; it is wondrous music.

Doug Spencer

Unusual and delicious, Jazz String Quintet is also eminently approachable.
Unusual and delicious, Jazz String Quintet is also eminently approachable. Unlike so many ‘Jazz with strings’ projects it is neither sickly-sweet nor starchy. Chicago’s Jim Gailloreto is a highly skilled improvising saxophonist & composer-arranger, very thoughtful, playful & eclectic. His new CD’s other players are the Hawk String Quartet. The five musicians’ mutual ease & real interplay (precisely what’s so conspicuously lacking on most ‘jazz-cum-classical’ projects) are a tribute to their skill and their open minds and - more than likely – to the cellist being Jim’s spouse! The strings are never a mere ‘carpet’ beneath the soprano saxophone, which Jim plays, suberbly. The recording itself is an uncanny, accurate representation of musical conversations captured ‘live’ inside a church. As ‘jazz’ & as ‘chamber music’ the music succeeds, beautifully. Jim’s own pieces are substantial, as are his arrangements of pieces by Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane. The guest - singer Kurt Elling - delivers a Sufi poem very nicely.