While revisiting of the electric work of Miles Davis has become somewhat commonplace these days, the transitional period between his second quintet of the 1960s and the explosion that would be Bitches Brew
has received less attention than it deserves. With Round 'Bout Now
the George Schuller Quintet, formerly known as Chump Change, makes its recording debut with an album that pays tribute to such albums as Circle in the Round, Filles de Kilimanjaro,
and In a Silent Way
Although the material, comprised of a number of Schuller originals, Davis' "Side Car," "Circle in the Round" and "Filles de Kilimanjaro," and vibraphonist Tom Beckham's "Blackamoor," provides an open backdrop for spirited improvisations from all involved, this is a more focused, less overtly free album than any of Schuller's previous outings. Much like its inspiration, Round 'Bout Now is as much about ambience as it is open improvisation.
The line-up includes Beckham, Donny McCaslin on saxophones and alto flute, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn and Dave Ambrosio on bass, and the textures are a somewhat different than what's found on the source, although vibes are a very compatible substitute for Fender Rhodes, the sound which dominated many of Miles' recordings from this period. Adding guitarist Pete McCann, kaval/bass clarinetist Matt Darriau and, in particular, accordionist Sonny Barbato on selected tracks opens up the pieces by introducing different textures that, while not necessarily the same choices that Miles made, are reverential by broadening the sonic palette beyond what would be considered the norm.
And while the approach is reverential, by no means do the players attempt to directly emulate their sources. Jensen's sound on open horn is not as dark as Miles,' nor is her muted sound as piercing; but like Davis she favours the midrange of the instrument. Schuller, while clearly showing a debt to Tony Williams, plays with a lighter, less muscular approach; his cymbals brighter, splashier. And the rock rhythms that began to inform Miles' work around this time are largely absent; instead, the quintet aims more to pay tribute to the open harmonic landscape of the period. Tracks like Schuller's "Quiet Ruckus" successfully bridge the gap between the freer post bop of the Hancock/Shorter/Carter/Williams pieces from Water Babies and the more ambient textures of In a Silent Way.
Round 'Bout Now succeeds in capturing the essence of a more or less overlooked period in Miles' evolution. Thoughtful, articulate and inspired, Schuller and the group clearly understand the way in which Miles was carefully pushing things in new directions. And, like Miles, while they incorporate inspirations from other sources, their take is altogether unique; this is an album that, without being aggressive about it, pushes the boundaries of group improvisation.
Personnel: George Schuller: drums, cymbals, bells and things you shake; Donny McCaslin: tenor and soprano sax, alto flute; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom Beckham: vibes); Dave Ambrosio: bass. Pete McCann: guitar (1, 2, 3-6); Matt Dariau: kaval and bass clarinet (5, 8); Sonny Barbato: accordion (5, 8).