Joe Giardullo's 14-piece band dubbed the Open Ensemble is named with good reason. Unlike many other groups that feature improvisation as their centerpiece, Giardullo demands a spacious precept that emphasizes tacit space as much as the notes, de-emphasizes counterpoint, and allows the music to breathe deeply. He also is not big on personal interactive listening skills as much as listening to one's self, and ensuring that each individual contribution has the utmost meaning and depth. What you hear, on a completely different level than usually conceived, is a string of snippets that at times coincide, flow and ebb like an easy running river, and never congeal to the point where they blend the vast color palette employed into any one darkened or discernible hue. The group features heavyweights like Joe McPhee on pocket trumpet or valve trombone, guitarist Dom Minasi, and the leader on flutes, bass clarinet, and soprano saxophone. Rising stars Steve Lantner on piano and Lori Freedman are included, as well as students of Giardullo. Not only is the ensemble open stylistically, but also instrumentally, as there are at least two of everything, especially emphasizing strings, save the piano, xylophone played by David Arner, and sole percussionist Brian Melick. Opening with "OPB" and "OPG," this feeling of democracy is clearly stated, as Giardullo's concept seems fully accepted by the ensemble. Everyone takes turns, a spontaneous, proportioned rotation is established, respect and pace are recognized, and that's about it. By the end of "OPG," everyone is comfortable with role playing and the simplicity of openness. What is most amazing is that no single voice dominates, and because the player are in a circular set up, must be quite entertaining to hear live. Not that strong musicianship doesn't come out, as the bass clarinets dominate on "Hikori," Arner's xylophone shimmers during "Q-26(e)" and chatters on the title track, while electric guitars go steely and pronounced on "Q-26(e)" and "OPD" with an introductory tick-tock track and pulse being the most discernible rhythm. "2T(m)" is a beautiful display of pure democracy at work, with tandem melodies and soaring sounds, the flute lead of "Memory Root" is a bit spooky, and the quicker chatter of "NFRTT-1" suggests dialogue. The strings as a united front are strongest during the brief but elongated "Calabar." This is an idea, fronted by Giardullo's always active mind, which is different from what everyone else in modern creative music is doing. There may be visual cues or inspiration from physical or spiritual objects, but certainly no written music. It's a fascinating display of what still lies ahead for challenged musicians and listeners who believe conventional wisdom needs to be questioned and vagaries expounded upon.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos