Gerald Cleaver / Uncle June

Be It as I See It

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Drummer Gerald Cleaver -- who's played with everyone from Matthew Shipp to David Torn -- backs a six-piece band, with occasional guests, on this intriguing album. Cleaver's not particularly attracted to free jazz blare, so while the group features two reed players in addition to keyboards, viola, bass, and drums, the music is often amorphous and even atmospheric. Two tracks, "To Love" and "He Said," feature vocals, the lyrics apparently poems written by the leader. "Lee/Mae" is a drifting ballad, lush with romance and melancholy, with Mat Maneri's strings singing over Craig Taborn's piano and Andrew Bishop's clarinet, as Cleaver gently brushes the drums. Other tracks like "Statues/UmbRa" offer a gentle, stately swing, with Taborn playing both piano and electronic keyboards to add a spacy, abstract mood. "Ruby Ritchie/Well" is probably the album's peak in terms of energy; Cleaver hammers the kit early on as the horns go wild, but by the three-minute mark things have slowed down again to a moderate blues groove. The album is mostly taken up by a five-part suite (tracks three through seven), and as a whole it seems to be a concept record in tribute to Cleaver's family, but no matter what the songs are "about," the blend of emotion and instrumental technique that fuels the performances is what the best jazz is always about.

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