Guitar, bass and reeds is an unusual lineup for a jazz trio, and GSU achieves some unexpected results within that framework. Whether it's free improvisational interplay, the inventive compositions of the individual members or creative restatements of pieces by Lennon/McCartney of Thelonious Monk, the music delivered by this unconventional unit is consistently excellent, accessible but laced with musical surprises that force your ears open.
The players are all busy members of the Boston jazz community, playing in a variety of lineups. Perhaps the best known beyond the regional level is reedman Jeremy Udden, who, as a member of Either/Orchestra, tours internationally and has garnered attention in the Downbeat Reader's Poll, placing in the Best Big Band category. Udden contributes tenor and soprano sax, flute and a pair of compositions to The Effect. Guitarist Eric Hofbauer is a member of Boston's Pendulabellum, an improvisational trio that has also gained international attention, including a featured slot at the 1999 North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands. The lineup is rounded out with bassist Scott Barnum, one of the busiest players on the Boston scene, equally adept at plucked and arco styles.
It's a distinguished cast of players, and they play a distinguished brand of jazz. It's been said that some musicians, especially younger players, go outside because they don't know the way in. That's certainly not true of GSU. The three group improvisations that they offer on their debut disc are free, but that's because the players are talented enough to play freely. That's more than established by the quality of their performances on the composed numbers, which, in addition to Udden's pair, include three from Hofbauer and one from Barnum, as well as a tango interpretation of the Beatles "And I Love Her" and a respectful but inventive version of Monk's "Played Twice."
GSU is rooted in tradition, but their sights are on the future and their music is a significant pointer toward the possibilities of jazz at a time when too many others are busy mining the past or undermining the spirit of true improvisation by marketing instrumental pop as jazz. Their efforts are worthy of support, and their music is well worth hearing.