On Like Before, Somewhat After, drummer George Schuller reconvenes his group Circle Wide, last heard on its 2003 Playscape debut Round 'Bout Now, a tribute to the pre-fusion electro-acoustic work of Miles Davis. Once again tapping the 1970s for inspiration, Schuller delves into the discography of pianist Keith Jarrett's classic American Quartet, which featured Dewey Redman (reeds), Charlie Haden (bass) and Paul Motian (drums).
Criminally underrated, Jarrett's American Quartet embraced the diversity of its time, seamlessly blending numerous genres and styles with a sublime virtuosity on par with the classic small groups of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Schuller's tribute sheds new light on Jarrett's seminal work, making Like Before, Somewhat After a vibrant homage.
Embracing the lyricism inherent in Jarrett's writing, Schuller's ensemble offers one of the most euphorically adventurous albums in recent memory. Expounding at length on the pianist's folksy themes, the ensemble breathes new life into these enduring melodies.
Saxophonist Donny McCaslin's rugged contributions reinforce his well-deserved status as a star on the rise. Channeling Redman's robust lyricism and angular attack without resorting to imitation, his circuitous salvos on "Rotation" and "The Survivor's Suite, Part Two" unfurl with Coleman-esque logic.
Chameleonic guitarist Brad Shepik unveils a multi-hued palette, from the funky wah-wah fueled oscillations of "Common Mama" to the scorching ascension of "The Survivor's Suite, Part Two." Together, Shepik and McCaslin spin an electrifying web of sound that undulates with bold, lyrical cadences.
Tom Beckham's scintillating vibes provide a sturdy harmonic foundation on an array of tunes, from atmospheric modal exoticism ("Survivor's Suite, Part One") and soulful gospel fervor ("De Drums") to funky Latin workouts ("Common Mama"). Bassist Dave Ambrosio deftly navigates Schuller's fluidly shifting rhythms, with occasional help from percussionist Jamey Haddad.
Effortlessly moving between freedom and formal structure, Circle Wide embraces the same malleable, inside-outside aesthetic that the American Quartet excelled at. Jarrett's compositions are stretched, re-arranged and re-imagined without distorting their foundation, demonstrating their timeless appeal. Schuller's two original dedications, "Dew Point" and "Back To School" reveal lessons learned, unfolding with a lyrical economy and adventurous spirit worthy of their inspiration.
Like Before, Somewhat After invokes the bittersweet intensity of Jarrett's formative work, making this richly rewarding tribute one of Schuller's most beautiful and accessible albums.
Personnel: George Schuller: drums, bells, percussion, other rattly things; Donny McCaslin: tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute; Brad Shepik: guitar; Tom Beckham: vibes; Dave Ambrosio: bass; Jamey Haddad: percussion (2-4, 6, 7).