George Schuller's Circle Wide: Like Before, Somewhat After (2008)
"Dewpoint," the appropriately titled opening track of Like Before, Somewhat After, the sophomore release of George Schuller's work with Circle Wide, is perhaps as elucidating as any semester-long course in conveying what it means to reaching a threshold of precise saturation, neither failing to live up to the bar set high nor causing discomfort by reaching too high and producing a work of pretentious chaos.
"Dewpoint" is one of two original tracks on the record, the others being respectful but bold reinterpretations of pieces by Keith Jarrett's 1970s American Quartet. The tune showcases no gradual crescendo; from the very first note, Donny McCaslin's bulging, swollen sax notes and Tom Beckham's understated velvety vibes support a powerful performance, testifying to a diligent vision of what a solid piece should sound likeimportant, but subtly mischievous. The whole track is an exploration of a saturation point, thick notes delivered with an intentional just-right precision with McCaslin's sax as the explosive, but not bombastic, protagonist. It is the precision with which all the instruments collide with elegant eccentricity that makes "Dewpoint" so enjoyable. Nothing is too over-the-top, and although McCaslin clearly steals the show, he does so in an impressively understated way. Listeners won't have a problem picking out, or pointing out, the powerful presence of the other instruments.
And what to say of "De Drums"? The first few seconds deliver one of the album's most exciting moments, presenting slow, steady notes that don't deliver their potential immediately and create a sense of anticipation that is teased, steadily and expertly, by the slinky percussion, authoritative sax harmonies and playfully somber drums. There is a pause of almost insignificant duration less than halfway into the track which allows sneaking in a breath before taking in the rest of the track. By the end of the piece, heart rates will quicken and pupils will dilate. Increased heart rate is nothing but a physical symptom of something called love, and falling in love with these pieces on Like Before, Somewhat After is one physical phenomenon that even those left-brained can understand with ease.
Track Listing: Dew Point; Common Mama; The Survivors's Suite, Part One; The Survivors' Suite, Part Two; Rotation; De Drums; Back To School; Encore, b.
Personnel: Donny McCaslin: tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute; Brad Shepik: guitar; Tom Beckham: vibes; Dave Ambrosio: bass; George Schuller: drums, percussion. Jamey Hadad: percussion (2-4, 6, 7).