On his inaugural release as a bandleader, saxophonist/clarinetist Andrew Bishop proves that avant-garde jazz benefits greatly from the touch of a skilled composer. Sure, you need chops, and Bishop has chops to burn, whether navigating the Lacy-esque architecture and parallel time universes of "Cleaver's Loops" on soprano or blistering the wallpaper with his tenor overtones on the ten-plus-minute fiery "People's Republic" -- the former titled after this trio's drummer, Gerald Cleaver, and the latter a tongue-in-cheek but affectionate reference to everything liberal and progressive about Bishop's Ann Arbor hometown. But an ability to raise the roof is only part of the picture. A composer of contemporary orchestral and chamber music, Bishop combines a jazzman's fire and flow with a rigorous compositional sensibility, resulting in a potent and highly satisfying blend. Even his "free jazz" maintains a strong sense of thematic development. Upon hearing the entirety of Time & Imaginary Time from "Prologue" to "Epilogue," you will perceive a narrative cohesion and sense Bishop's overarching theme "inspired from theories on human understanding and conception of time," even if, like the best jazz composers, Bishop approaches thematic material from oblique angles and doesn't hit you over the head with obviousness. The CD's sense of continuity is enhanced by the recurrence of "Fragments" themes in various guises here and there -- a solitary 40-second "Fragment," executed with stop-and-start precision by Bishop (on tenor), Cleaver, and supple bassist Tim Flood, reappears later as the launching point for five minutes of expressive pyrotechnics from the trio members on "Fragments in Imaginary Time," a disc highlight.
Meanwhile, the two parts of "(Shattered Fragments)" are brief vehicles for clarinet, bass, and drums to break the "Fragment" into smaller shards of sound, and "Fragments on a Curve, to Find" twists the theme into yet another shape, stated principally by Flood as Bishop gently swoops and flutters above on soprano. As an additional wrinkle, Bishop sequences the "Fragments" inventively, hinting at the theme in an early context and revealing it more explicitly later. This and the disc's quieter, spacious, and exploratory interludes can lead to some pleasurably deep listening, but Time & Imaginary Time can whomp you on the head even if you aren't paying close attention, as the trio burns through a funked-up uptempo cooker like "Get It!" (exclamation point entirely appropriate) and the aforementioned "People's Republic." Meanwhile, the paradoxically ultra-tight and free-flowing "Picking Up the Pieces" benefits greatly from Flood's in-the-pocket basswork and Cleaver's ability to conquer even the most challenging rhythms. Bishop/Cleaver/Flood have been intermittently active in Ann Arbor since the late '90s, weathering even Cleaver's move from Michigan to become an in-demand drummer on the New York City creative jazz scene. So they are far from strangers to one another, and the nearly telepathic communication heard during this disc's improvisations attests to that fact. As for Bishop himself, the reedman can be heard as a bandmember on releases by Ann Arbor jazz stalwarts like pianist Ellen Rowe, guitarist Carl Michel, and flügelhornist Ed Sarath, and thanks to Envoi Recordings his projects as leader are finding their way to CD circa 2005. More Bishop recordings can be expected, and on the basis of Time & Imaginary Time creative jazz fans have much to anticipate.