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Nate Dorward
George Schuller does Jazz in all sizes. JigSaw (a septet) sits midway between the Schulldogs quartet and his twelve-piece ensemble Orange Then Blue, and shares personnel with those bands. JigSaw’s self-titled debut has taken some time to emerge. The earliest tracks date from 1998, and there’s a personnel change between sessions, with Matt Darriau replacing Howard Johnson for the tracks recorded in 2000. Schuller’s music grows out of the heavyweights of the modern Jazz canon—Ornette, Coltrane, Monk, George Russell—but the mood of JigSaw is rather lighter: tight, quickmoving freebop, the horns (true to the bandname) interlocking like puzzle pieces, and the charts likeably wry though sometimes pausing for a gently melancholy Third Stream chorale. It’s a great band: Tony Malaby, Dave Ballou, and Matt Darriau are brisk, freewheeling, a little off-the-wall, and violinist Mark Feldman dazzling as always, though sometimes I do find myself wishing he’d play solos rather than cadenzas. (He does have one or two more reined-in moments, such as his exchanges with Malaby and Ballou on “Punta d’Blues.”) Howard Johnson doesn’t get much of a look-in, and mostly plays bass clarinet rather than tuba; and Curtis Hasselbring is mostly there to flesh out the ensembles, though he does open the album on unaccompanied trombone and contributes nice guitarwork to “Tip Jar,” Schuller’s good-humored memorial to “all those ‘fifty cent’ gigs we continue to do.” This is a smart, enjoyable disc; my only complaint would be that sometimes you wish the players had a chance to stretch out more freely: even the central blowout on “Tense,” a tribute to 1960s free Jazz, is quite compressed.
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