Ten or so years ago, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s cool jazz was generally considered way uncool: too soft, too unassertive, too short on grit. Nowadays folks think more kindly of him, his case made both by numerous reissues of once forgotten classics and by admiring clarinetists such as Michael Moore and Francois Houle. (Giuffre’s still with us, but is retired from active duty.) His influence is evident in the local clarinet-bass-drums trio Design Flaw too, though this is hardly a band of copycats–Giuffre’s trios often dispensed with drums. Clarinetist Jon Doyle borrows some of the master’s doleful lower-register sound, and he lays off the vibrato for a similar air of resignation. But he’s more forceful in other ways, digging into a sour or raspy timbre here and there, hammering away at isolated notes with a more aggressive attack, and ascending more often to the horn’s bracing upper register. In addition, plush-toned bassist (and principal composer) Brian Dibblee and rattletrap drummer Frank Rosaly put a little more rhythm in the rhythm section. Sly and Robbie they ain’t, but they do add a whiff of dub hypnosis to their looping patterns on “Closer Than You or I Believe,” from the group’s new and self-produced Ends Meet (Future Reference). Like Giuffre the trio is a little suspicious of overt emotional displays, but then a cool posture in the face of free-jazz heat is a Chicago tradition: look at the early AACM. Design Flaw can sound a bit too relaxed once in a while, like the loose snares on Rosaly’s drum, but they play little games to make up for it, modulating from tempo to tempo in the course of a piece. And all the laidbackitude makes the occasional shouts that much more striking–as if Perry Como had started barking like a dog in the middle of “Magic Moments.” Sunday, February 23, 9 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont; 773-935-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.