JUMPIN'IN THE FUTURE
(GM Recordings GM3010CD) 
Gunther Schuller is probably best known these days as a composer of modern "classical" music, and there are a number of CDs devoted to performances of his compositions. One of my favorites is a Mercury "Living Presence" CD of Antal Dorati with the
But Gunther Schuller is also a French horn player who, in addition to a position with
As such it is Schuller's only jazz album.
There are eight pieces on this album. The earliest is the title track, composed in 1947. An arrangement of Gershwin's "Summertime" was written in 1949. Half of the pieces -- "When The Saints Go Marchin' In," and arrangements of "Blue Moon," "Anthropology," and "Yesterdays" -- were written in 1955. "Night Music" was written in 1961 as a solo vehicle for Eric Dolphy. The album's final piece, "Teardrop," was written in 1966. All were recorded for this album in 1988.
The opener is "Saints," but this is not yet another arrangement of this classic
"Blue Moon" receives a more conventional arrangement. The rich melody gets a treatment "reminiscent of Gil Evans' arrangements for the Claude Thornhill band in the 1940s," to quote Elman again. Evans' Thornhill arrangements (which used French horns and other instruments unusual in jazz/dance bands) drew upon Debussy for an impressionistic approach that directly prefigured the advent of "cool jazz" and those "Birth of the Cool" 1949 sessions -- and Evans' own later work with Miles Davis.
"Night Music" was written for Eric Dolphy, and was performed by the late saxophonist in 1961 in a concert recorded for VINTAGE DOLPHY (GM3005CD). It also appears on a 1966
"Anthropology" is a Charlie Parker classic. Elman says of this arrangement, "It seems to be directly inspired by Gil Evans' transformation of bebop themes for Claude Thornhill, going so far as to lift a magical effect for its conclusion directly from Evans' arrangement of Charlie Parker's 'Donna Lee.'" It seems clear that Schuller was influenced by Evans, and to good effect.
"Jumpin' In The Future" -- Schuller's earliest work here -- seems to be a cousin to his "Symphony for Brass and Percussion, Op. 16" (on MUSIC FOR BRASS, reissued on THE BIRTH OF THE THIRD STREAM). Written "purely as an adventure in composition," it is richly varied music that draws both upon contemporary composition and jazz. "Schuller believes [it] to be the first full-fledged, purely atonal piece in jazz." As such it reminds me of Robert Graettinger's early compositions for Stan Kenton, the earliest of which, "
"Yesterdays" and "Summertime" have become jazz "standards," arranged and played by a wide variety of jazz musicians over the years. Each piece offers rich and subtle opportunities for an ambitious arranger, and Schuller takes full advantage of those opportunities. "Summertime" in particular, with its modal vamp, is fecund with musical possibilities. At places Schuller's arrangement (which predates Evans' by ten years) sounds uncannily like Gil Evans' for Miles Davis.
"Teardrop" on the other hand, seems to draw its inspiration (and part of its theme) from "
Orange Then Blue is, on this album, an orchestra of more than twenty musicians -- not unlike the kind of orchestra Mingus put together for his larger and more ambitious works. And this album opens the door to a kind of ambitious, orchestral jazz which seemed to reach its peak in the fifties -- a time when the possibilities for jazz composition seemed wide open, with only the sky as a limit. It was a time of musical ferment and fresh combinations of unlikely elements. The musicians who commissioned and performed these pieces were eager to stretch their muscles with challenging new music. Not surprisingly, this music is as fresh now (and when it was recorded, in 1988, ten years ago) as ever, and just as rewarding for the committed listener.
Schuller may be best known for his non-jazz compositions, but these are equal in rank, and deserve a spot on your shelf next to THE BIRTH OF THE THIRD STREAM.
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