The planning for this date began probably around December of 2001 or a bit after Bill Gagliardi's (1947, Staten Island, NY) debut session (CIMP 242) was issued. That record received a lot of favorable reaction, much of it along the lines of How come it's taken 50 plus years to get this guy recorded? Well, one of the reasons, I think, is that, as Bill told me, "I write every day. I get it of the moment. It's a total release for me." As a result, it would seem that, for Bill, writing is a means that doesn't really need recording as its end. Even so, for his first recording Bill had a good time at The Spirit Room; the enjoyment was mutual and the results were inspiring. So, with some regularity, Bill would send more material with various groupings and eventually we hit on a mutually agreeable lineup for another recording.
All of the members of this group have recorded before with CIMP. In fact, Ken Wessel (1956, White Plains, NY), Dave Hofstra (1953, Leavenworth, KS), and Lou Grassi (1947, Summit, NJ) made up Bill's Quartet on his debut while John Carlson (1959, Greencastle, IN) had previously recorded as both sideman and leader. As a result, I have often had occasion to communicate with members of the quintet and when I would ask any one of them how the music was going for this date, inevitably I would hear: "We're always woodshedding," "The music sounds great," "It's really fun, but each week Bill keeps bringing in new music." And so, even though we had more or less agreed on a repertoire drawn from tunes with names like Tsunami Mama, Conversation 727, Wu Wei Baby, Eschatology, Cityzen, My Manager is Gone, Aria 51, Raw Sewerage, Youth in Asia, They Is You, Henderson, Thirst, Glitchsinthe, and the Cole Porter standard, So In Love, as I write this a few hours before the start of the session, I don't necessarily expect many of these tunes, though I do expect to hear other originals, as yet unknown to me. All of which is not surprising, as it seems to be in Bill's makeup to let his muses guide him rather than trying to guide the muses. Bill has told me, "When you're in the moment, that's it! I don't question what comesout. It's like playing. I can't think about what I'm playing [in a creative improvising music situation]." This spontaneous open approach is pretty much at the core of what Bill tries to practice. "It's the biggest responsibility you'll ever have in your life: opening the door and dealing with the moment."
We began musically dealing with the moment at (a bit after) 7:00 p.m., after a full but relatively subdued supper on an atypically hot and humid July evening. And, as I guessed, they opened with a tune whose name was unfamiliar to me (Hearthstone Conference). Hearthstone isa yawning kind of motif that soon closes into itself with each individual working his own development as part of a coordinated group improv. I let myself glide on the patch weavings of improvs on one of the more ethereal outings of the session, and, just as I began to come back into my self-awareness, Bill brought it to a close. For me, at this moment, we were in concert on this smooth improv.
Things became more intense with Forgetaboutit, its line sidewinding itself through a number of fine solos and ensemble approaches.
The night wore on and the heat bore in and, yet, the music got stronger and stronger. Forgetaboutit came about 80 minutes into the first set. Then, directly following a break, Surfin..., and Soul Ain't... played in succession. This preceded a sleep break.
The next morning the temperatures had cooled a bit, but the humidity was higher. Going over the previous day'swork, it became obvious that we had already accomplished a concert's worth of listening. Yet, there were still a number of compositions not exposed or executed to the standard for release. In addition, the group (whose individual dedication and sacrifices over the year to make this documentationa reality had proven itself many times over in many ways) was in very good spirits, anxious to play, and, as Bill said, "We're in no rush to get going." And so, by 10:00 a.m. we were back at it, launching into the Ayleresque Oracle with its reverent inspiration and configuration.
An interesting sidebar happened just before the group played Where is Trane. I mentioned that one of the co-joined twins (Laleh and Ladan Bijani) recently in the news had died while undergoing a surgery to separate their brains. I didn't realize that John's identical twin brother had died, at 19, of a rare cancer. When I mentioned the death of the twin, Bill turned to John and said, "That hits close to home, doesn't it?" John, near welling up, acknowledged it and Bill said, "You take the first solo."
This is one solid and dynamic unit, with each member key to the success of the whole. Ken, Bill, and John are almost the exclusive soloists and over the lot of the music here (and there is a lot) their roles are never handled in a perfunctory manner. Ken grimaces and moves the whole of his body as one with the guitar; John plants himself solidly like a linebacker, occasionally coiling downas his body muscles focus on breath and embouchure control; Bill directs and accents his playing with pointer precision on the straightaways and with horse tail defiance on the crescendos. The featured role for Dave and Lou is support—a major role here as it allows the soloing triad to work independently of, but within, the structure, moving in and out without obvious or awkward transitions. Over the two days, as a group and as individuals, none were ever less than engaged with the music.
The last composition addressed over the two days was, appropriately, Exaltation, a piece that begs forrelease and, in its stead, demands that the soloists deliver sustaining solos, forcing the artistic statement to succeed in spite of the unrelenting structure. You can hear Bill's spoken exclamation at its conclusion, a capper for the performance and the session.
Being engaged by the music—pastbeing a participant or listener—is what artistry is about, each piece its own discovery, its own original statement, the whole a collection presented in concert (in this case, two halves of a wondrous whole). Music in the trite-free zone. Adjust your ears. Prepare for substance.
Robert D. Rusch -July 8, 2003