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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Available Jelly – Missolonghi (more from 2004) (Ramboy, 2020) ***½

By Troy Dostert

Those familiar with Michael Moore’s work with the Clusone Trio in the 1990s know him to be one of the most stylistically omnivorous musicians to come out of the jazz avant-garde. Any encounter with a Clusone Trio album—I Am an Indian (Gramavision, 1994) comes especially recommended—entailed a fasten-your-seatbelts ride through huge swaths of the jazz tradition and beyond. Anything from Dewey Redman to Hoagy Carmichael to Saint-Saëns could put in an appearance in music that could be as sentimental and even sublime as it was deranged and madcap. Multi-instrumentalist Moore’s anything-goes antics were enhanced by the other two thirds of the trio: cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Han Bennink, both paragons of the Dutch avant-garde that placed its stamp so authoritatively on European free jazz.

While Moore’s other group, Available Jelly, dialed down the zaniness a notch or two, it provided a similarly expansive vantage from which to interrogate the jazz tradition, only with a larger ensemble. Trumpeter/cornetist Eric Boeren, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Tobias Deilus, trombonist Wolter Wierbos, bassist Ernst Glerum and drummer Michael Vatcher proved themselves more than capable of realizing Moore’s idiosyncratic vision, most recently on an excellent live two-disc release from 2012, Baarle-Nassau (Ramboy), which perfectly captures the band’s semi-anarchic spirit. Prior to that release, the band hadn’t recorded since 2004, with the fine Bilbao Song (Ramboy). And now, almost twenty years after that studio date, the group is releasing a collection of out-takes, near-misses and other ephemera from the session. While Missolonghi is predictably a bit scattered and unfocused at times, it nevertheless manages to convey the unique charms of the ensemble, with a window into its distinctively panoramic approach to music-making.

There are some annoyances that must be endured with a project of this nature. The bouncy, Ellingtonian flavor of “Cumbersome” is plagued by a few interruptions due to false starts, and the otherwise charming “O’er the Irish Sea” contains several multi-second dropouts. “[I]mp #2,” meanwhile, consists principally of the horns’ assorted splutterings, growls and cries. But when the band settles in on a hard-driving cut like “Flap Ears,” its ability to swing mightily while leaving room for spontaneous freedom is amply demonstrated. “Cheese” provides more of the same, with a smart groove that ignites some terrific simultaneous solos from the horns.

And there are the little unexpected gems scattered throughout the album, like the gorgeous two-minute opener, “Showbiz,” chorale-like in its stately beauty. Or the moody “Premonition,” remarkably restrained and harmonically rich. Moore has a way with a tune, and the lovely ballad “You Can Stop Now,” with a show-stopping solo from Boeren in tribute to Lester Bowie, is a reminder of just how much Moore reveres a strong melody.

It may not be consistently at the level of Available Jelly’s best work, but fans of Moore and his associates will still find a lot to like here. One hopes this release signals something coming soon in the pipeline, as new music from the band is long overdue.