After four years of regular live performances around New York, the George Schuller Quintet, formerly known as Chump Change, makes its recorded debut, documenting what AllAboutJazz calls their "rigorous, unpredictable approach to group improvisation." Like his other groups, Orange Then Blue and The Schulldogs, Schuller's quintet showcases his ability to create innovative, inclusive compositions/arrangements that provide the ideal framework for the improvisational abilities of his talented collaborators.
One Final Note Review: George Schuller intended Round'Bout Now to pay tribute to what he calls Miles Davis' "transitional period", bounded by the LPs Filles de Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. But I hear a different sort of homage, to the airy, wide-open drumming of Tony Williams. The two are related, of course. Williams' rhythmic elasticity cleared the space for Davis and the second Great Quintet to stretch the boundaries of jazz harmony and especially form.
Schuller and his quintet (formerly known as Chump Change and Circle Wide), get as close to the sound and feeling of Miles' floating, otherworldly music of that interval as any band I've heard. Part of this is due to Ingrid Jensen's trumpet and flugelhorn work that recreates without imitation, the inward watchfulness of Miles circa 1968. Her front line partner, Donny McCaslin, captures Wayne Shorter's aphoristic worrying of small melodic cells and his big tone, but misses Shorter's inscrutability and sense of being both inside the music and hovering over it in some parallel musical universe.
The clincher, though, is Schuller's substitution of Tom Beckham's vibes for the Rhodes piano Miles had Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea play. It's a shrewd move. I love the sound of the Rhodes, but Beckham's aurora borealis chords hang and shimmer like a Rhodes (both make sound from struck metal tines) while his single-note lines are both clearer and yet more impressionistic. Add Sonny Barbato's accordion to "Circle In The Round" and "Filles de Kilimanjaro" and you get the floating, atmospheric sound of Miles in the Sky. Schuller, to his credit, doesn't try to recreate Williams' splashy, airborne cymbal work or his knock-on-the-door snare alarms. He may be the session's leader, but he chooses to do what leaders do best: advance the group concept and bring out the best in his players. It's a concept of leadership that, like this lovely and haunting CD, does honor to the spirit of its dedicatee.