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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Burton Greene and Guillaume Gargaud – Magic Intensity (Chant Records, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

This is the thing with listening to music in bulk. During those manic periods when I finally get a chance to chop away at my pile of albums to review, I listen to little else with much intention. That means the albums I listened to in the days before this one bias my points of reference. When finally getting to Magic Intensity, I could not get two comparisons - both entirely specific to my own listening course over the last couple weeks - out of my head. I grabbed this album because I liked Henry Kaiser and Eugene Chadbourne’s über-acoustic Wind Crystals so much I wanted to hear more pure experimental strings, albeit with promise of more melodicism. I also just finished a review of Aki Takase and Rudi Mahall’s Fifty Fifty, which was a sprightly take on playful parlor jazz. Magic Intensity is a little more serious than that. And, I just cannot shake the impression that this album stylistically lies right between the two.

OK. Some of what I wrote above was for narrative convenience. I was attracted to this album because it was a bare, acoustic duo (with some help from the flutist Tilo Bauheier on the final three tracks). I was also attracted to the octogenarian pianist, Burton Greene, an old school free jazz legend. I knew much less about the French guitarist and demi-octogenarian Guillaume Gargaud, who, despite an impressive history of collaborators, has spent much of the last decade exploring the potentialities of solo guitar work.

This collaboration falls exactly along the lines one might expect. Burton Greene brings his manic curiosity, still potent after all these years, to the grand piano. At times, he makes it sound like a clanky upright. At others, he juxtaposes the deep resonance with jangled keys. Two minutes into the fourth track “Apart Together” (an apparent nod to the standard “Alone Together”), Greene intersperses skittery runs with several choppy bars of “Frere Jacques.” This tune is referenced again on “Capricious Voyage to Serenity,” though this time it is buried among what sound like a panoply of desconstructed folk tunes.

For his part, Gargaud seems to have inherited some of Derek Bailey’s fear of crisp sustain and Eugene Chadbourne’s percussive fidgetiness. Except for isolated moments, Greene, the elder statesman of improvisation, assumes the role of the melodic and rhythmic driving force of this effort. Gargaud’s contributions often weave in and out of Greene’s more determined directionality, sudden fishtails, swerves, and stops included. Bauheier, meanwhile, adds solemnity and pacifies some of the schizophrenics into an uncharacteristically soft (though still jagged) piece in the closing “Capricious Voyage to Serenity.” A fitting end to an album that modernizes the old, roots the new, and shows that free jazz, in the classic sense, is still alive, vibrant, and even fresh.