The debut recording by Jimmy Giuffre's new trio was as startling a new development in Giuffre's music as it was in jazz. Where Giuffre's earlier '50s trio with Jim Hall and Ralph Pena provided a framework for the kind of improvisation he wanted to do, it still held fairly tightly to the jazz conventions of the time stylistically -- the arrangements were different, of course, given there was no drummer, but the sounds were in the pocket of the '50s. With Fusion, everything changed for Giuffre, as it was for jazzers everywhere, albeit in a different way. In Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, Giuffre found the perfect dynamic: a pianist whose open spacious chordal improvisation provided room to move entire sound worlds in and out of, and a bassist whose deft handling of meter and harmonic balance created a cliff to jump from. The set opens with Carla Bley's painstakingly slow "Jesus Maria." Seemingly out of West Side Story, it offered listeners the first real opportunity to hear the kind of space Giuffre had been talking about since 1958. His melodic line slips slowly out of the clarinet as Bley's triads flavor it harmonically, all the while establishing a mode for improvisation. Swallow goes for single and double note rhythms wherever possible, paying close attention to Bley's left hand. In all the rounded warmth, something very adventurous is happening, in that all three musicians try not to share space, but keep it between them in ensemble play as well as in improvisation. In Giuffre's "Emphasis" we hear for the first time: Bley's pointillistic pianism showing it in angular fifths and eights before jumping into a funky, if weird blues. Giuffre's clarinet plays counterpoint in his solo, making Bley stand out even more, as Swallow punches up notes and very minimal runs bringing a virtual funkiness to the tune the rest of the avant-guard of the time wasn't aware you could get -- it wasn't until Archie Shepp was pulling it off in 1968 that the same kind of statements were used. The economy used by all three musicians creates a quiet yet riveting tension in the music. "In the Mornings Out There" begins with a near direct cop of "Freddie the Freeloader" by Miles Davis, though it too is by Carla Bley. As Bley plays his two chords in a one-two, one-two rhythm, Giuffre finds the melody in blues phrasing stretched to the breaking point, though without edges. Swallow, keeping time, plays an octave lower than usual, granting a deep, wide bottom to the proceedings. The melody doesn't enter the tune until a minute of riffing has passed and Giuffre introduces it by moving in gentle counterpoint against Bley's right hand. When it's time to solo, the listener can't tell whose break it is, because both men are soloing simultaneously. Giuffre and company knew one thing and had it down: that an approach this subtle had to be rife with melodic invention and harmonic advancement. Bley was the right pianist; his open modal scales provided all the Debussian contrapuntal ideas necessary for Giuffre to use what he had learned from studying with Darius Milhaud the colors and textures of Debussy's tone poems, the "Trois Nocturnes." A good listen to "Cry, Want" reveals this in spades with its droning intervals and timbral mysteries that seem to entwine between Bley's triads and Giuffre's lilting solo in the face of a driving Swallow rhythmic counterpoint. The elegance and grace of this album didn't set the American jazz world on fire as Free Fall would the next year, but it did set up further textural and architectural possibilities for the trio's next album, Thesis.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek