Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, and Steve Swallow had reunited four years prior to this recording session before a live and very enthusiastic audience. On this date, they had been touring together on and off for four years and were as telepathic as in 1961 when they recorded Fusion and Thesis with Creed Taylor at Verve (yeah, the same guy who aesthetically ruined Wes Montgomery and Grover Washington, Jr.). The differences were few but marked: For one, on this date Swallow plays electric bass -- an instrument that Giuffre has enjoyed in his bands since the late '70s. Bley's playing -- trademark as ever with those big spaces in the middle of a dense passage -- is like liquid here; he pours himself through the group tunes and, on his solos, slips through the keys in a fierce contrapuntal assertion of thematic development. Swallow is the most understated and elastic of bassists. He understands implicitly that the place of rhythm in this trio is between interplay, not underscoring it. The set opens with the title track written by Bley. Giuffre moans an intro on the clarinet and Bley answers with his theme, which is a variation on a Harold Arlen tune and Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica." Giuffre seemingly pays no mind and creates a modal tone bridge for Swallow to create a wedge for himself. Being in 4/4, it feels like a blues, and in Bley's right hand it is, but Giuffre finds the contrapuntal element to be more expressive and follows along just after the beat in a semi-quaver that suggests an intervallic shift, but the meter is the same. Giuffre's solo actually quotes (for six notes) Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria" from the group's 1961 Fusion album. On Giuffre's "Calls in the Night," thematic development is very gradual, though the piece is only six minutes long. Bley plays counterpoint with himself and Giuffre and Swallow are forced to follow scalular chromatics until the tune opens up and then all three members form a contrapuntal mode where the aesthetic is microtonal and the improvisation is a harmonic shift in dynamic, not the other way around. Giuffre's sheer number of tones and colors is staggering; they seem limitless -- it is impossible to tell what has been predetermined and what is improvised given the formlessness of his approach. Swallow's "Watchin' the River" is an actual chromatic study in scale and interval. Bley and Giuffre offer separate nodes of harmonic invention as Swallow, playing at the top of the instrument's register and getting a guitar effect, creates the tune's body from chromaticism to institute a theme that can be opened in any number of directions. Bley chooses a serialist approach and Giuffre chooses melodic invention before Bley gives in and trades eights with both men. It's breathtaking to listen to the intricate interplay and staggering communication inherent in a music this understated and free. Conversations With a Goose may not be a muscular recording in the way that Hat's Berlin 1961 was, or in the aggressive nature of Free Fall's two group pieces. That said, it is far more challenging and exhilarating to listen to because this trio used Free Fall as a starting point toward a peak it seems they had yet to reach. Onward and upward.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek