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Schuller is not just a “head in, solos, head out” jazz composer. His pieces, while leavened with generous improv zones, are often, like classical music, through-composed, compelling the sympathetic listener to stick around till the end. His use of standard jazz forms is thoughtful and all the more entertaining for his and the ensemble’s wit and dexterity at exploiting them. It’s the mixture of classical jazz and new classical musics that defines Schuller’s work, though. The title of track 4, “Distant Cousin” (another piece that starts out sounding more new music than jazz), in fact might refer to this genre mixage. JigSaw is yet another recording that will have to be filed in the jazz section, but which is really an addition to that growing, imaginary section that might be called “third stream”.
While Schuller and company have not invented any earth-shattering new forms here (who’s doing that in jazz anyway?), JigSaw is worth a listen. Ballou’s solos are standouts, and Schuller’s drumming holds it all together capably. Catch Schuller live with his band, the Schulldogs and hear how the qualities inherent in JigSaw come to bright life in performance.