Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bill Cunliffe - All About Jazz

Three's Company
Bill Cunliffe & Holly Hoffman (Capri)

Bill Cunliffe, long a fixture of both Southern
California’s cover charge and course reader scene, has
been working with flutist Holly Hofmann for over two
decades. Three’s Company, their third recorded
collaboration, finds the duo aided by an allstar cast of

The album opens with a duet on Burton Lane’s
“Too Late Now” in a limited, Claude Bolling-esque
interplay before giving way to a more guttural and
swinging partnership that lasts for the remainder of
the record. “Dalto”, the second track, is the first of
Cunliffe’s four contributions to the album. A persistent
syncopated bass line opens the track before Cunliffe
sparingly implies it below his own solo. Hofmann’s
approach, rising and falling in quick-fire steps, is
supported by Cunliffe’s unwavering montuno.
The first trio formation comes courtesy of violinist
Regina Carter who, alongside Hofmann’s underscoring,
string-like vibrato, works through a rendition of
Strayhorn’s “Star-Crossed Lovers”,
simmering through nine minutes of nuanced phrasing
and glissandos. Carter’s contribution, the only
stringed instrument on the album, is refreshingly
subdued, free of the electric baroque figures that can
riddle her more uptempo performances.

The titular following track, a Hofmann original, is
a swiftly driven tune with Cunliffe providing sparse
clusters behind her and trumpeter Terell Stafford. The
trio is at their swinging best with Stafford’s muted
trumpet spinning across the changes. Cunliffe’s Bud
Powell-indebted bop tirade follows effortlessly while a
minimal left hand bookmarks the chord changes.
Cunliffe’s “Reunion”, which features clarinet
throwback Ken Peplowski breathing in unison
alongside Hofmann, finds a symphonic touch as the
two winds wind through Cunliffe’s ten-fingered
orchestra, eventually pitting the two soloists against
each other while Cunliffe holds down the fort. Fauré’s
“Pavane” restores things to duo status with Cunliffe
and Hofmann ebbing through a gentle, chamber
performance, achingly slow before closing with
Hofmann fluttering around the lower register while
Cunliffe lays down a gentle bassline.

The last two tracks are a pair of Cunliffe
goodbyes: “Sweet Andy”, his tribute to bassist Andy
Simpkins featuring drummer Alvester Garnett’s
nimble brushes and punctual bass drum, and
“Farewell”, wrapping up the album with just Cunliffe
and Hofmann. Three’s Company finds the duo creating
well-seasoned instrumentals with and without the
help of their virtuosic contemporaries.

Bill Cunliffe & Holly Hoffman @ All About Jazz - New York

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