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Listening Party

Gerald Cleaver/Uncle June: Be It as I See It

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Gerald Cleaver/Uncle June

Be It as I See It

Fresh Sound New Talent

One of the prime clichés in the writing-about-jazz fakebook is how a drummer’s record doesn’t sound like a “drummer’s record.” Then again, Gerald Cleaver’s Be It as I See It doesn’t sound like too many other types of records, period. Performed by the leader’s steady sextet Uncle June, as augmented by various guests, it’s a set of varied compositions and experiments put forth in the form of an impressionistic take on the mid-20th-century migration of black families like the Detroit-based Cleaver’s own from the rural South to the industrial North. None of that overlay will be readily evident if you simply listen, even repeatedly, and listen repeatedly you will.

If Be It sounds like it belongs to anyone in particular, it’s keyboardist Craig Taborn. It’s his smoky piano chords and synth vapors and squonks that animate and then unsettle “Statues/UmbRa”; his emotional solo forms the fluttering heart of fragile ballad “From a Life of the Same Name.” But Cleaver’s compositions and restless vision provide the key throughline. The conceptual frame is hard to miss, from the ructious blurt of opening fanfare “To Love” to the spoken-word bits that break into other tracks, but other than the squelchy improv of “The Lights,” this is mostly a set of dark and lovely tunes like “Charles Street Sunrise,” buoyed by delicate reeds playing from Tony Malaby and Andrew Bishop, or the surging, bittersweet “Charles Street Quotidian.”

A handful of tracks display an insanely verve-y confidence, e.g., the way Cleaver assembles a clucking banjo, a wordless soprano, and Mat Maneri’s staccato viola melody into a Viennese café spy theme under the title “22 Minutes (The Wedding Song).” Elsewhere, Be It displays a certain tentativeness, which is appealing on a slowly blooming ballad such as “Lee/Mae,” but is a bit more problematic in the context of the album’s overall inchoate focus. While the whole may lack snap, the parts just sing their hearts out.

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