Gerald Cleaver (d, perc, voice), Andrew Bishop (fl, ss, b-cl, ts), Tony Malaby (ss, ts), Craig Taborn (p), Drew Gress (b), Mat Maneri (viola), Ryan MacStaller (g), Andy Taub (banjo), Jean Carla Rodea, John Cleaver (voices)
Bar code: 8427328423755
"Be It As I See It, Gerald Cleaver's fourth release as a leader, is an artistic vision of the Great Migration of African American families, in particular his family's movement from the rural South to the urban landscapes in the North, arriving at his home in Detroit, Michigan. The New York-based drummer/composer is a major player in forward-thinking music, his reputation and acumen evolving through his early tenure with AACM leader Roscoe Mitchell, and involvement with like- minded contemporaries including bassist William Parker and pianist Craig Taborn in Farmers By Nature (AUM Fidelity, 2009). As proven time and time again, Cleaver's drumming skills are a force of epic proportion.
This time, his growth as a composer is highlighted all the more. These vignetteschildhood memories and experiencesare both abstract and human, representing a wellspring of imagination and talent, realized by his Uncle June ensemble, a tremendous lineup that includes longtime collaborator Taborn, the dual reeds of Tony Malaby and Andrew Bishop, bassist Drew Gress, and violist Mat Maneri.
Like stanzas in a poetic work, each track is connected yet autonomous. "To Love"'s dark shadowy groove includes cacophonous instruments and Cleaver's strident spoken words of love and tenacity, followed by "Charles Street Sunrise," which contains blustery flute in a pastoral setting. "Lee / Mae" is adorned with a current of ethereal strings and horn harmonies that are as lovely as they are dissonant. "Statues / UmbRa" moves like a modern day urban folktale, its balladesque rhythmic centering, before morphing into obscurity with multiple speaking voices, languid horns, and distorted guitar. These ideas are adventurous; sometimes unsettling, yet always fascinating.
Though the project is challenging, Uncle June rises to the occasion. "Gremmy" is outlandishly fun, intersecting between the lines of avant-garde and free-bop and elevated by Bishop and Malaby's contrasting reeds, Gress' thumping solo and a skittering flight from Taborn. Another factor in the equation is Maneri, whose resonating viola adds an unusual tonality. "From A Life Of The Same Name" concludes the set with a mellifluous hypnotism that's the polar opposite of the opening track; its slow swirl of voices creating an intoxicating aura.
Be It As I See It is memorable; a lucid expression that is at times surreal and breathtakingly poignant."
-Mark F. Turner -All About Jazz (January 26, 2011)
"Drummer Gerald Cleaver has a CV which takes in names like Mario Pavone, Joe Morris, Charles Gayle and Roscoe Mitchell. Of these names it's the last which inspires not only Cleavers's music, but also his appetite for working in new musical forms, and striving for new forms of musical expression. It's hardly surprising, then, that Be It As I See It, his fourth as a leader in his own rightand in the company of his Uncle June ensemble, featuring reed man Tony Malaby and bassist Drew Gressis as reflective of the times we live in as it is with a broader historical continuum.
In tackling the theme of the Great Migration of the last century in musical form, Cleaver sets himself no mean task, and it's to his credit that he avoids straightforward narrative in doing so. Instead, the music comes in collage form, and with a little imagination it's easy to see how it works. Thus, the opening almost three-minute blast that is "To Love" comes on like an abstract statement of intent, even while, through its measured ferocity, it encapsulates the aural shock that's an integral part of moving from a rural to an urban environment.
But, as Cleaver makes clear, narrative has little or no part here, so while the intimation of the free in "Alluvia" carries with it implications outside the purely musical sphere, it also unexpectedly conjures up the notion of freedom as group understanding, exemplified by the likes of Henry Cow.
With its juxtapositions, "Gremmy" highlights how deep this musical understanding is between the players. Pianist Craig Taborn melds the whole thing together, but as with everything else in this program it seems somehow improper to single out any contribution, given that this is such a profoundly "group" music.
As the final track, "From A Life Of The Same Name" has the effect of closing things out both literally and metaphorically; clarifying the degree to which Cleaver and his cohorts have pulled off the considerable feat of reconciling a past with a present, without wallowing in tiresome, neo-conservative staples. The result is a program of highly individual music, beautifully realized."
-Nic Jones -All About Jazz (January 27, 2011)
"On his third album as a leader, drummer Gerald Cleaver looks inward, reflecting on the struggles and victories of his familys part in the Great Migration from Mississippi to Detroit. The leader eschews any narrative structure, period pieces, or forced symbolism, instead reveling in diverse but masterful flexibility. The scramble of moods and styles mirrors the scrappy resourcefulness and improvisational wit demanded by the jarring changes of northern migration.
Cleaver doesnt merely employ his vast family of musical collaborators, but he also brings in his father, John Cleaver, for the terse recitation on the flinty, rock-driven To Love, while his wife, Jean Carta Rodea, delivers the abstract words behind He Said. The centerpiece of the album is Fence & Post (For Mom & Dad), a five-part suite that veers from chamber-like serenity to post-Sun Ra space-outs (with Craig Taborn expertly serving up Saturn-style synthesizer squiggles) to a Duke Ellington-worthy tone poem to grooves percolating into chaos to a tempo-shifting post-bop fantasia. The influence of the AACMgleaned directly from his long association with the reedist and composer Roscoe Mitchellalong with Sun Ra hangs heavy over the proceedings, but Cleaver filters them through his own gauzy sensibility, accenting dissonance with a judicious silkiness. The recording captures a deep ensemble effort, but there are astonishing solos from reedists Tony Malaby and Andrew Bishop, violist Mat Maneri and Taborn. Cleaver has established his bona fides as a top jazz drummer; now its time to recognize his skills as a conceptualist, composer and leader."
-Peter Margasak -Down Beat (January, 2011)
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