|Schuller's latest showcases his well-documented ability to build a focused, inclusive framework for creative improvisation with eight original compositions for configurations ranging from quintet to septet. An extension of his long-standing group, The Schulldogs, Jigsaw incorporates the sounds and textures of additional horns and strings.
One Final Note Review: What mystery lies within this drummer's soul that he is so distrustful of tonality, yet unwilling to divorce it? George Schuller, who composed and arranged all the pieces on JigSaw, writes ranging, sometimes ragged lines that skirt resolution, dodging the lure of the tonic, keeping the harmonies on edge. Yet he and bassist brother Ed do lighten matters with limber grooves, keeping the horns prancing through their restless dance. Take the opening moments of the session: Curtis Hasselbring intones a mournful tune on trombone, while violinist Mark Feldman joins him to commiserate. The texture thickens before Dave Ballou cuts in with some plunger-muted trumpet over a just-ever-so-slightly-funky backbeat laid down by the Schuller boys. Then Feldman's fiddle returns to soar over a discordant tangle of tumbling horns that has shards of the melody protruding. The horns come together for a closing chorus.
On the surface this would seem like a pared-down version of Schuller's more famous ensemble, Orange Then Blue. The big band blended a sense of tradition with global village grooves and a cutting sense of adventure. Despite its Boston address, the ensemble did "downtown" as well as anyone, and better than most. The cutting edge though is mostly what remains on this quintet-with-guests date. Feldman's appearances on four tracks are especially welcomed. He takes a leading role on "Tense (suite)", opening it singing Kaddish on his fiddle before the horns enter for a raucous free-for-all. Howard Johnson provides some righteous, rambling bass clarinet both to the ensemble as well in his own solo passage. The horns fade, leaving Feldman to add a brief coda.
"Tip Jar" demonstrates how Schuller's pieces flow through pools and rapids in unpredictable ways. The piece opens as is the composer's want, with Tony Malaby's tenor and the rhythm section milling about. The rhythm section tightens as Malaby heats up for a long solo. Matt Darriau, also on tenor, emerges from the right channel along with trumpeter Ballou from the opposite side to take over. They blow over the distracted plucking of Hasselbring's electric guitar. Only after this episode does the ensemble kick in with a theme statement that grows ragged as the track winds to its conclusion. The empathy of the group is as evident when they are all seemingly wandering as when they lock into a tight passage. Schuller fosters this collective consideration of his challenging compositions throughout, and it is what makes this session worth auditioning.
George Schuller (drums, bells), Mark Feldman (violin), Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano sax), Dave Ballou (trumpet), Howard Johnson (tuba, bass clarinet), Matt Darriau (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Curtis Hasselbring (trombone, guitar), Ed Schuller (bass)