French clarinet boss Andre Jaume is chameleonic figure on the jazz scene; he is just as likely to be seen in trad, bebop, or swing dates as he is in free-form vanguard sessions. His two improv dates with Jimmy Giuffre are among the highest quality ever released on the Hat label -- and that's saying something. These sessions feature Jaume in the relaxed inside setting of playing only the clarinet, something he hasn't done in decades, and in a variety of musical settings that include trios, duets, quartets, and even a quintet, with such notables as drummers Barry Altschul and Randy Kaye, bassists Alain Solier and Bruno Chevrillon, and guitarist Remi Charmasson. The set begins with Joe McPhee's wondrous blues "Vieux Carre," with a full quartet of guitar, bass, and drums backing Jaume. The pace is relaxed and loose; Jaume plays out the melody and transposes the scales to move intervals. His solo, like one from Woody Herman or Pete Fountain, builds itself on the seams of the changes. On his own "Pour Jimmy," Jaume slips into muted, silky-tone mode and constructs a melody that is part "Music Man" and part "Extensions," with the bassist slipping through the middle with a hint of rhythm and no drums. There are some vanguard moments here, too, such as "Saint-Georges," with it's clarinet honk-fest in counterpoint to the bassed rhythm. Perhaps the most moving track is the ten-minute "West Stockbridge Impression," which begins as a blues sparely and quietly on the Bb. With Kaye and Solier, however, the piece becomes a reason to stretch the form, with Kaye triple timing on brushes in odd cadences to mark the intervals and Jaume trying to blur their edges, almost as if to empty them out individually. As his solo runs through an endless stream of soulful, bluesed-out arpeggios, timbral nuances become apparent in the spaces between the instruments, and the color emerges: blue, gray, green, shimmering heat. When he moves to the bass clarinet and alto, the tonalities mark a shift in mood and architecture; ostinato phrases become integral to the unraveling and coming back together. This is such a brilliant and tender recording, everyone even remotely interested in jazz clarinet should hear it.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek