Valuable chunks of the jazz canon go undistinguished – no doubt about that. But while the process of honoring the classics may be forever heroic, there’s no guarantee that listeners will be engaged by past glories. To make hay with yesteryear, artists must imbue the tunes with a personal vision. Sometimes that means upending the originals, sometimes it means refracting base elements, and sometimes, as with this glide through the hushed gems of Jim Hall and Jimmy Giuffre, it means genuflecting to the initial designs while injecting a deep sense of self. Interpreting pieces introduced in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s by clarinetist Giuffre’s trios and guitarist Hall’s early work, Ben Allison’s Quiet Revolution revives songbooks that have equal interests in grace and delicacy.
Group chemistry is at an apex here. Guitarist Steve Cardenas and reed player Ted Nash are longtime Allison cohorts, and their rapport echoes the intimacy of Giuffre’s drummerless outfits, which often featured Hall’s sage improvisation and deft tunesmithing. The pieces they’ve chosen are sublime. “Careful” is jaunty and sly; “Lookin’ Up” is fluid and sleek. On each, Nash’s tenor flutters elegantly while the strings slide around each other. Sometimes it’s about creating a beveled friction. Sometimes it’s about sweeping forward as one. Their moves are clever and measured – that’s part of the genuflection process. Whimsy crops up, too. Giuffre’s “Pony Express” comes from a series of “western” pieces he crafted, and it conjures a bit of sagebrush before its done. Most of these tracks (with a few extras included) were initially released on the vinyl-only imprint, Newvelle, where audio excellence is paramount. Nuance is everything in jazz, so the trio’s finely rendered inflections wind up bolstering context and clarifying intent on this program of living history.