George Schuller’s Circle Wide

Listen Both Ways
Playscape PSR # 053112

A restrained percussionist and bandleader, George Schuller, who will be playing The Rex March 4 and 5 as part of an all-star aggregation featuring guitarist Michael Musillami and bassist Joe Fonda, exhibits his gift for composition and arrangements on this quintet session.

Most of the tunes sparkle with easy swing based on the clever juxtaposition of Peter Apfelbaum’s tenor saxophone with Brad Shepik’s guitar and Tom Beckham’s vibes. Besides Schuller’s drumming whose rebounds often cuff and prod the soloists into an architecturally perfect presentation, Dave Ambrosio’s bass holds the rhythm steady. The saxman, who suggests what Stan Getz would sound like had he sharpened his tone after the early 1960s, outputs a slurry efficiency on straightforward tunes such as “Could This Be the Year?” yet can also spew out dramatic split tones on “A Map Would Help” while backed by shaking guitar licks, cascading rustles from the drummer and popping aluminum bar resonation from the vibist.

As a switch, Apfelbaum plays melodica on the band’s version of “Jesus Maria”. Using the key flute’s tremolo range to put an individual stamp on the Carla Bley classic, his whistling stutter is enhanced by the smooth flow of Beckham’s motor-driven continuum, with Shepik’s downward strums defining the melodic line. Meanwhile “Edwin”, a juddering waltz and Schuller’s own “Bed Head” also show off the band’s combination of playful and precise creation. Although the guitarist gets a little raucous on the latter, it’s the drummer’s peppy rolls and centred timing prodding containment which keeps the improvisation from spinning out of control. With the overall sound picture buoyant yet complex, listening both or any way confirms the high quality of this CD.

—Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 19 #5