Lucian Ban / Alex Simu: Free Fall

Free Fall

In 2018, the Romanian duo of pianist Lucian Ban and clarinetist Alex Simu toured their homeland in a series of concerts inspired by the improvisational genius of Jimmy Giuffre. What transpired throughout this particular performance, captured at Bucharest’s French Institute, is a fitting embodiment inspired by one of jazz’ humblest stalwarts.

Ban’s “Quiet Storm” opens the concert by immersing listeners in the robust tenderness for which Giuffre will be forever known. Harnessing an illustrative power akin to incidental music of the theater, Simu comports himself like an actor on stage, deviating just enough from the script to wrap his performance in a cloak of individuality. Following this, two entirely improvised interludes (the jagged title track and more liquescent “Mysteries,” an album highlight) sandwich Carla Bley’s “Jesus Maria,” which in its present iteration feels as spontaneous as it does timeless. Moving with ghostly patience, it crowns the metaphysical heart stirring within each of these songs.

Simu offers two originals. “Near” finds him unaccompanied on a custom bass clarinet, expounding upon the influences of Giuffre’s playing, while “The Pilgrim” lures Ban into a gorgeously restrained exercise in itineracy. Two tunes by Giuffre close out the set. Where “Cry, Want” is a bluesy affair bathed in modal shadow, “Used To Be” bids farewell on an optimistic note, sending off the spirit of a fallen hero on a pyre of reed and ivory.

(This review originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

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