Friday, February 11, 2011

George Schuller: Life's Little Dramas

George Schuller Trio
Life's Little Dramas (Fresh Sound/New Talent; 2010)

George Schuller (drums)
Dan Tepfer (piano)
Jeremy Stratton (bass)

You may not know George Schuller but you've probably heard him at one point or another. Schuller comes from a family of jazz musicians (brother Ed and father/legend Gunther). His talent extends across an array of recordings, either as member, producer or writer. He's worked with Joe Lovano, Tony Malaby, Ran Blake, Luciana Souza and one of my favourite groups, Conference Call to name just a mere few. Schuller is a highly versatile and artistic drummer but an even more prolific and masterful composer.

Schuller's recorded discography as leader isn't that long considering his been performing since the early '80s. George Schuller's latest, Life's Little Dramas (Fresh Sound/New Talent) is wonderful example of Schuller's versatility and compositional brilliance. Now I don't own any of George Schuller's material as leader so this was a bit of a revelation for me when I got a copy of Life's Little Dramas. Joined with him are two other exciting and highly skilled musicians in Dan Tepfer (piano) and Jeremy Stratton (bass). Both musicians have stellar recording careers of their own but within Schuller's arrangements they all shine. The number of tracks Life's Little Dramas were written over the span of the last 3 decades and Schuller as he mentions briefly in the notes wanted to readdress them in a different way.

Opening with the Schuller penned "Glass Notes", Tepfer takes center stage with some lovely and dynamic moments throughout. Schuller and Stratton keep a slight yet quietly upbeat tone in the background. Schuller's arrangements are extremely inventive and utilize various chord changes that may not be noticeable to the non-musician (myself included) but they will hit you subtly. One such moment is "House Of Blue Lime", written by Lee Konitz, which Schuller arranges with great beauty and craft. Stratton and Schuller both have exquisite solos during this piece. And I think its Schuller voice (someone correct me if I'm wrong) that can be heard underneath the chords in an almost Keith Jarrett-esque channeling.

Schuller's compositions really do allow the trio to stretch and feel extremely wide and open. The richly diverse "Newtoon" is evidence that Schuller can be complex in his structure while still building a marvelously touching tune. The drums are awash everywhere while Tepfer tenders delicate yet playful chord changes. "Salad Days" is simply a wonderful ballad strangely enough about salad. Stratton again shines with emotive delivery. Schuller message is carried with firm brushes of rhythm while Tepfer delivers story on top.

Life's Little Dramas is compelling, diverse, and filled with energy on multiple levels. It's not drummers record. It's a composer's record. And this composer has delivered a superb document of post bop skill and brought out the best in his trio. I'm hoping these guys get a chance to record again because Life's Little Dramas is a real treat from start to finish.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your fine review. I cannot but reccomend you Schuller's Round Bout Now (Playscape 2003), a uniquely original and smart hommage to Davis' music pre-'70s. I like this trio recording and think this along with the 2003 sessioni is his finest. Worth some listen.