George Schuller: JigSaw (2004)
As an extension of his Schulldogs project, JigSaw finds drummer/composer George Schuller following somewhat in the third stream path of his father Gunther. With a group of players who double on so many instruments in order to provide a broad complexion of textures, Schuller comfortably blends free improvisation, new music and a surprising sense of swing for a recording that succeeds on many fronts.
While he plays on a little over half of the recording, the presence of violinist Mark Feldman is dominant, continuing to demonstrate why he is in such demand with groups including John Abercrombie’s current quartet and John Zorn’s Masada String Trio. With a free style that brings a clear sense of focus, he solos with unbridled passion, even while maintaining a firm direction through Schuller’s extended compositional forms.
Schuller uses the breadth of available instruments to maximum effect, often in surprising ways. Dave Ballou’s trumpet and Tony Malaby’s tenor may carry a motif, over which Feldman solos. When not playing trombone, Curtis Hasselbring’s Bailey-cum-Frisell-informed guitar musings provide a textured backdrop over which Ballou and Malaby solo concurrently. While free improvisation is the order of the day, it is most often over complex structures that range from the mildly funky “Tip Jar” and convoluted riff of “Ripe” to the out-and-out swing of “Punta d’Blues.”
Schuller and brother Ed on bass make a formidable rhythm team, easily traversing the Zorn-like organized chaos of “Band Vote” and “Band Vote (The Recount),” the relaxed yet compelling “Comeuppance,” and the lengthier “Tense Suite,” which is inspired by Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz , Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures and John Coltrane’s Ascension. Paying homage to three of the most important free recordings of the early ‘60s, Schuller manages to imbue the suite with a more modern post-new music sensibility, providing a richly varied vehicle over which Feldman can link the old with the new.
The material on JigSaw was recorded a number of years ago, one date in ’98 and the other in ’00. While the delay in this material seeing the light of day is curious, fans of free-wheeling music that is nevertheless rooted in firm compositional structure will be happy that 482 Music has finally released it. Combined with the 2002 live Schulldogs recording, Hellbent , and a 2003 post-Miles affair, Round ‘Bout Now , Schuller is emerging as a stylistically broad and challenging performer/composer/bandleader who deserves further attention from like-minded listeners.
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Track Listing: Ripe; Punta d'Blues; Band Vote; Distant Cousin; Tip Jar; Comeuppance; Tense (Suite) - Pre-Tense, Tension, Past Tense; Band Vote (The Recount).
Personnel: Dave Ballou: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Mark Feldman: violin (1, 2, 6, 7); Matt Dariau: clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone (1, 2-6, 8);Curtis Hasselbring: trombone and guitar (1, 5, 6); Howard Johnson: bass clarinet and tuba (2, 7); Ed Schuller: bass; George Schuller: drums, cymbals, bells, things you shake.