As someone who owns dozens of jazz albums, and has listened to hundreds more, I get especially excited when I hear someone doing something new with the form. It was that way when I heard the Jimmy Giuffre 3 get minimalist and moody on 1961, when I heard Anouar Brahem infuse jazz with Middle Eastern tones on his album Thimar, and now it’s happened again with Ida Lupino (CD, digital), the new album from pianist Giovanni Guida, trombonist Gianluca Petrella, clarinetist and bass clarinetist Louis Sclavis, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. And not just because my grandmother’s name was Ida.
Left to right: Giovanni Guidi / Gianluca Petrella / Gerald Cleaver / Louis Sclavis
Photo: © Caterina di Perri / ECM Records
Recorded in 2015, Ida Lupino is a collection of moody, jazzy instrumentals largely written by Guida and Petrella, often with Cleaver, and occasionally with Sclavis as well. Though, ironically, the title track is actually a cover; the song was written by Carla Bley, and first recorded by her ex-husband Paul Bley on the album Turning Point. Ida Lupino also marks the first time these four musicians have recorded together, though Guidi and Petrella previously worked on Enrico Rava’s album Tribe, while Petrella, Cleaver, and others collaborated on Guidi’s 2011 album We Don’t Live Here Anymore.
What makes Ida Lupino stand out, in part, are the instruments these guys play on this collection of mostly original tunes. Unlike many jazz quartets, which pair piano, bass, drums, and a sax player, this foursome has no bassist, and swaps the sax for both a trombonist and a clarinet player, making for a rather unique combination.
This is not to say that Ida Lupino is the first time a trombone player has been a part of a small jazz ensemble; far from it (clarinetists, however, are a different story). Trombonist J.J. Johnson recorded a number of piano, bass, drum quartets in the late-’50s and early-’60s, much of which has been collected on The Complete Columbia J.J. Small Group Sessions.
But what sets Ida Lupino apart from J.J. Johnson’s trombone-led quartets — besides, as I mentioned, the absence of a drummer — is that Petrella doesn’t play his trombone in the way we usually hear it played: peppy and quick like he’s in a New Orleans bar or a high school auditorium during jazz band practice. Instead, he mostly plays slowly and carefully. And the same can be said for Sclavis, though mournful bass clarinet players are far more common.
The duo’s precise but downbeat approach is best typified by such moody and atmospheric songs as “What we Talk About When We Talk About Love,” which opens the album; the rather fittingly titled “No More Calypso”; and the ironically punctuated “Gato!” (Clearly these guys had fun coming up with the names of these songs.) The foursome also get downright lugubrious for the beautiful tune “Rouge Lust,” following it up with the percussive but still atmospheric “Things We Never Planned,” while “The Gam Scrotpions” ends the album on a wonderfully dour note.
Even their two clearly well-chosen cover tunes — the aforementioned title track, and the song “Per I Morti Di Reggio Emilia,” which was written by Fausto Amodei — follow this textural formula. In fact, the song “Fidel Slow” is so sparse at the beginning that you might think the album’s over until Guida hits a striking note about a minute in.
This is not to say that Ida Lupino is as sad as, well, losing your grandmother. On the third track, “Jeronimo,” Guida gets playful, as if he thinking “tickling the ivories” is literally what you’re supposed to do, and the other guys follow his lead…maybe so he won’t tickle them as well. Things also pick up a bit in the middle of “La Terra,” though it never gets as playful as “Jeronimo.”
Though it is notable that, because of the common instrumentation, those more frantic tracks don’t stick out the way, say, the silly and scat-alogical “Nothing Like You” stuck out like a sore thumb on Miles Davis’ otherwise instrumental album Sorcerer. Instead, they work more to just slightly change the mood and keep this album from being a complete downer.
Of course, a jazz album that’s moody is, unto itself, nothing new. I know, I own dozens of them. And the same goes for ones where the clarinetist plays like he’s in a funk. But by pairing this kind of moodiness with a different instrument configuration than your typical jazz quartet, the foursome of pianist Giovanni Guida, trombonist Gianluca Petrella, clarinetist and bass clarinetist Louis Sclavis, and drummer Gerald Cleaver have made something unique with Ida Lipino. Sure, it’s nothing my grandmother would’ve enjoyed (she wasn’t into jazz), but it certainly got me excited.