Ineffable // Friedrich Gulda (Columbia CL 2346)

Revising a silly series I started two years ago, here’s an album from an unlikely source that has some rather fantastic and refreshing music on it, music that’s perfect for the last day of April, or the first day of May depending on where in the world you are. To the music!

The Music

The Tune: “I’ll Remember April”

The Tune: “Riverbed”

Recorded: 12 January, 1965 in New York City

  • Friedrich Gulda- Piano
  • Bob Cranshaw- Bass
  • Albert Heath- Drums

I know what you’re thinking. First I hype a random album by a random guy named Ralph Burns, and now here’s another obscure album by a somewhat obscure pianist. What gives? If there’s one thing that regular readers should know about me and this humble blog of mine, it’s that there’s always reason to what I write about.

But back to the music at hand.

Friedrich Gulda was a well-respected classical pianist who hailed from Vienna, Austria. Although Gulda and his fellow Austrian friend Joe Zawinul dabbled in jazz as youths, in the 1950’s, Gulda decided to try his hand at jazz professionally. Debuting in 1956 at Birdland in New York City and the Newport Jazz Festival, he wasn’t exactly a success, and he retreated back to his home turf of Bach and Ravel for some years. Nearly a decade later in 1965, after more dabbling in jazz (this time in a big band setting), Gulda was ready to record in an exposed jazz setting.

Recording in the classic piano trio format, Gulda is in great company. Bob Cranshaw was a familiar face around New York and his name graced numerous albums during the 1960’s, particularly Blue Note albums. His bass provides firm support while Albert Heath of the mighty Heath clan (his brothers were saxophonist Jimmy Heath and bassist Percy Heath) holds things down on the drums. Over this firm foundation, Gulda flourishes. In fact, there’s so much empathy between all involved that one would think this was a long-working combo. Nope. While Albert Heath toured with Gulda in the spring of ’64, Bob Cranshaw was completely new, meeting for the time in the studio.

The album describes Gulda’s piano as “unique”, which is an apt adjective. Gulda’s piano style is a breath of fresh air in 2019, and was certainly fresh in 1965 amidst the increasingly abstract piano styles then in vogue. His lines are flowing and his touch, delicate. This delicate, sensitive style of piano is especially evident on the ballads and medium-tempo tunes on the record. For instance, his rendition of the jazz warhorse “I’ll Remember April” is the epitome of fresh, due in large part to his reflective swing and quiet drive. That and his dramatic use of time, slowing the tune down to a crawl which gives the effect of lengthening the structure of the song. “I’ll Remember April” was already a rather simplistically pretty tune, but when taken at such a deliberate tempo, the true beauty of the song’s structure and chords are able to be fully explored. It’s certainly one of the most unique versions of “I’ll Remember April” that has ever been committed to tape.

The tune that follows on the record, “Riverbed”, is another perfect example of that “reflective swing and quiet drive” that I mentioned earlier. Written by his friend Joe Zawinul, the catchy “Riverbed” is taken at a jaunty, head-bobbing strut. Heath’s brushwork on this track is tasty, and Cranshaw is given space to solo, which he uses to mostly maintain the walking feeling. The use of syncopation at the beginning and end of the tune, as well as Gulda’s clean, minimalist playing make this tune too cool.

I could go on and on about the rest of the tracks on this album and how perfect they are, or how I really struggled to decide which tune or tunes to showcase for this blog (“I Only Have Eyes For You” barely lost to “Riverbed”), but I won’t. I will tell you, in the spirit of LeVar Burton, to not take my word for it. Give the album a listen. Allmusic gave it four stars, with Ken Dryden calling it excellent. He also said that it was a rather hard able to find due to it’s limited availability when it was released in 1965. It was recently reissued on CD, so it’s easier to track. Pun intended.

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: B

Other than the font type used for the album’s titling, this cover is nearly perfect. The picture, shot in glorious black and white, is both inviting and slightly noirish. The blacks are deep and the white’s startlingly bright, contrasting wonderfully. Caught during a light-hearted moment during a recording session, Gulda exudes happiness, modernity and urbanity. His whole style, from the hair to the glasses to the shirt are currently in style. This photograph could’ve been shot last year.

This being a radio station record, I kept the paper with the track timings on it. I thought about taking it off, especially since the glue holding it together is mostly dried up and its hanging on by a prayer, but I’m a sucker for maintaining the originality of a vintage record. It’s made it attached and still mostly white for over 50 years, so why should I remove it? Plus, I love the “NOT FOR RESALE” admonishment.

What does ineffable mean, anyhow? Webster defines it as “incapable of being described in words: indescribable”. Is it an accurate description of Gulda’s playing and the music in general on the album? You decide.

The Back

Gordon Barnes writes a solid set of liners. They’re informative and descriptive while being persistently upbeat. The way he jumps around the fact that Gulda was not exactly a hit when he first showed up on the jazz scene is impressive. The cover has certainly seen some better days.

The Vinyl

I’ve said it before and I say it again: the white two-eye labels Columbia used for radio station pressings are stunningly sexy in a sleek, modern way. From the sans-serif font to the two CBS logos that looked like eyes to the clean black and white labels, these are knockouts. This particular set of labels is rather unusual in that they don’t sport any “GUARANTEED HIGH FIDELITY” or anything like that at the bottom of the label; it’s just blank. I guess they didn’t care to tell the radio DJs about the nature of the fidelity. This must have been a brief variant, as another two-eye promo label from Columbia has the high fidelity on it. I’ll have to Google that anomaly one day. That’ll be a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Speaking of fidelity, this album was recorded excellently by the folks at Columbia. Was it recorded at Columbia’s famed 30th Street studio? Maybe. The solo piano tracks were recorded in Los Angeles and the trio tracks were recorded in New York City. Around 1965, the engineers at Columbia were beginning to change the sound of the studios, and the famous spacious sound was beginning to be replaced by a closer, more intimate sound. Perhaps this was one of those albums featuring the updated acoustics and recording techniques. Then again, it could’ve been recorded elsewhere in New York (Nola’s Penthouse?) and pressed by Columbia, which Columbia has done. At any rate, the recording sounds great, as most Columbia recordings did in those days. My copy is in glorious mono, complete with full-bodied sound. The drums are particularly well-recorded, crackling and sizzling with life.

The Place of Acquisition

In 2016, the local record store obtained a large collection of jazz records from a St. Louis radio DJ, several boxes strong. It largely consisted of releases from the 1980’s, but there were a few interesting things in it, including this album. I hadn’t heard of him before, but the sidemen were familiar names to me, the liner notes piqued my interest, it was an early Columbia record, it was $8, and most importantly, it had “I’ll Remember April” on it, which is one of my favorite jazz standards- all reasons to grab it.

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