Chamber jazz or third stream - or whatever the amalgamation of western classical music and jazz is called - has had a handful of talented proponents sprinkled throughout the history of music. They have ranged from the more structured compositions of Igor Stravinsky to the looser improvisations of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Soprano saxophonist Jim Gailloreto has recently joined the ranks of these musicians.
On American Complex, Gailloreto is in the company of a traditional string quartet, a guitarist on one track, and Patricia Barber's piano and vocals on two.
The CD is made up of a long, four-movement piece and a shorter one - all by Gailloreto - as well as a few standards, including Thelonious Monk, and two compositions by Barber. Even though there is a strong improvisational component to the music the feel is very much that of Western classical with jazzy touches. This is true even with the Monk compositions. Comparing this string quintet with, for example, cellist Akua Dixon's Quartette Indigo sessions - very much blues-drenched jazz with classical accents - this set is the other way around. Barber's songs fit well within the overall structure of the record, but they bear the imprint of her unique sound and style.
The instrumental tracks are very interesting both in their intricate constructs and in the solo and group improvisations. The main soloist is Gailloreto, but on "'Round Midnight" he shares the spotlight with violinist Katherine Hughes, and on "Well You Needn't" with guitarist John McLean. This is not to say that the quartet is relegated to the background like 1940s and '50s popular jazz records, where the role of the strings was to smooth out the horn sounds and make improvised jazz palatable to a larger audience. Quite the contrary,the quartet's playing is as angular as Gailloreto - who is a master of his instrument. He is able to use repetitive ideas and concepts without making the record monotonous; in fact, he is able to infuse his themes with something new each time he improvises on them.
Even though this is not traditional jazz it is a very enjoyable and intellectually stimulating slice of improvised music from a master composer and saxophonist.