CD Review – Gerald Cleaver: Live at Firehouse 12

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Gerald Cleaver is definitely one of the most versatile and eclectic drummers on the modern jazz scene. His respect for dynamics and melody makes him very expressive and perfectly suitable in any style of jazz. Also, his consideration for the tradition is quite evident as well as his capacity to interact fluently in free contexts. To sum things up in a few words, all these aspects flow directly into his own unique language on the drums. All of these elements are present in this new album “Live at the Firehouse 12” where Cleaver brings back in a live setting, Violet Hour, the band he assembled for his album Detroit recorded in 2008.

The album is very energetic, a reference to Hard Bop but in a modern setting where Cleaver works almost like a silent leader, always present but delicate, sometimes muscular but always functional. The presence of tenor saxophone, trumpet, soprano saxophone and bass clarinet offers a wide range of colours, especially during the melody expositions. I personally appreciated the work of woodwind master Andrew Bishop whose beautiful lines, arrangements and counterpoint that are a constant in every track.

The album opens with Pilgrim’s Progress, a fast tune masterfully conducted by the band with a nice texture in the melody underlined by Cleaver with nice accents. The solo section starts with strong trades between piano, drums and trumpet over a 24 bar form. The energy is powerful, the interplay remarkable and the solos reflect this general climax. Silly One is a beautiful example of texture. The initial groove by the drums is a prelude to the melody perfectly arranged and sustained by the bass of Chris Lightcap, who plays portions of the melody itself, and by the piano of Ben Waltzer who is always rhythmically interesting.

I enjoyed the intensity of the solos and the way in which the rhythm section interacts. Clever’s drums sounds are in fact a solo within the solo, once again very active but never invasive. Tale of Bricks is the third track of the album and represents the large musical vision by Gerald Cleaver. We have an introduction with a clear free atmosphere were drums, bass and piano paint a suggestive panel that leads us to the structured melody.

Another interesting aspect to this the song is the time signature where we have in fact 11/4 time. Jeremy Pelt on trumpet is in wonderful form in his solo supported by the constant pulsation by the drums and bass. The following solo on bass clarinet performed by Andrew Bishop is impeccable and DJ Allen plays a really intense and passionate solo on tenor saxophone.

Carla’s Day is a spectacular and modern Waltz that I personally like a lot. I enjoyed the double-time of drums and bass in the second part of the form that repeats consistently during the solos. It’s difficult to write about the solos as every direction taken by the soloist is subjective however one aspect I would like to underline is the interplay and how the members of the band are able to generate tension and release in something that I would define as strict freedom.

Detroit is the last track of the CD,  starting with a nice introduction by Cleaver caught by Chris Lightcap on bass with a riff in 7/4 followed by the piano. The melody alternates between 7/4 and a powerful swing in 4/4 that leads directly to the solo section where the alternating time signatures are maintained. Here the piano solo by Ben Waltzer is crystalline. After the final theme, the song ends with a pedal point in 7/4 where the musicians create common improvisations. Here once again Clever’s respect for dynamics is evident as the song finishes with a natural fade out.

Live at Firehouse 12 is an album that melts together many aspects of Jazz, paying tribute to the Hard Bop tradition but looking toward the future by incorporating odd meters, poly-rhythms and freedom. Add to this the remarkable cohesion between the members of the band and you have a great album. Highly recommended.

Writer: Simone Gubbiotti

Last modified: December 31, 2019