George Schuller: JigSaw (2004)
If the opening violin/trombone duo (Mark Feldman and Curtis Hasselbring, who also plays guitar on the session) momentarily reveals a strong vein of new classical influence, the ensuing drum/bass vamp, topped with a spirited trumpet solo (I would bet money Dave Ballou made some funky physical movements delivering it) dispels any fear of being subjected to a large dose of snooty chamber music. The piece evolves, leading to a passage with drawn out polyphonic lines, then a solo free-for-all over a new, even more frenetic drum/bass vamp. The piece moves on, reprising the opening statement, then screeches to a halt. It’s probably the most ambitious work on the disc, and is a good demonstration of Schuller’s compositional abilities.
Schuller is not just a “head in, solos, head out” jazz composer. His pieces, while leavened with generous improv zones, are often, like classical music, through-composed, compelling the sympathetic listener to stick around till the end. His use of standard jazz forms is thoughtful and all the more entertaining for his and the ensemble’s wit and dexterity at exploiting them. It’s the mixture of classical jazz and new classical musics that defines Schuller’s work, though. The title of track four, “Distant Cousin” (another piece that starts out sounding more new music than jazz), in fact might refer to this genre mixage. JigSaw is yet another recording that will have to be filed in the jazz section, but which is really an addition to that growing, imaginary section that might be called “third stream.”
While Schuller and company have not invented any earth-shattering new forms here (who’s doing that in jazz anyway?), JigSaw is worth a listen. Ballou’s solos are standouts, and Schuller’s drumming holds it all together capably. Catch Schuller live with his band, the Schulldogs, and hear how the qualities inherent in JigSaw come to bright life in performance.
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This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
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.