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New Album by Gypsy Schaeffer

Gypsy Schaeffer is not an individual, but an adventurous Boston-based jazz quartet with an improbably large stylistic sweep. New Album is their third recording for their own Peace Time label. The core of their music is loose, exuberant sort of post-Free style of jazz referred to by many (including me) as 'freebop.' The group's two horns & rhythm, piano- and guitar-free lineup is archetypal for this sort of post-Ornette jazz. The band's quick wit and the pairing of Andy Voelker's saxophones (mostly alto, though he also plays some soprano and tenor as well) and Joel Yennoir's burry trombone gives much of their music an approachable and mellow quality, even though some of it - like 'Identity Crisis,' 'Call to Arms,' and the CD's 4th tune (titled either 'Standard Candies' or 'Standard Candles,' depending on whether you believe the tray card or the CD itself) - gets a bit 'out there' in a post-Ayler manner.

Trombonist Joel Yennoir is best-known to jazz fans for his work with The Either / Orchestra, while the group's rhythm section also performs the same duties for Charlie Kohlhase's new 'Explorer's Club' septet. Drummer Chris Punis hews toward the aggressive and busy, ideal for urging Yennoir and Voelker to new levels of improvisational fervor. Jef Charland is an adept and versatile bassist, as comfortable with the bow as he is with the standard pizzicato approach to his instrument. I especially enjoyed the brief inversion of roles at the beginning of 'Black Friday' where Yennoir plays the bass line on trombone, while Charland joins Voelker in the front line. New Album is chock full of fun little eyebrow-raising details like this. Interestingly, many of the tunes on New Album are relatively short, clocking in at less than five minutes. This ploy pays off quite nicely, as Gypsy Schaeffer's music tends to be quite concentrated and conversational. The tunes - both group-written and penned individually by Voelker, Yennoir, and Charland - have cunning little melodies and unexpected changes that the horns deliver in a rapid-fire manner, much like a comedian delivers punch lines.

'New Egypt' kick-starts New Album in Freebop mode - a tart and hooky melody with some sharply accented starts and stops sets the stage for fine solos by Voelker and Yennoir over the surging rhythm section. 'Black Friday' is more expansive, sounding a bit like something from an Elvin Jones record circa 1970, except for a sly insertion of a backbeat-driven coda just before its end. Charland and Punis are the featured soloists on Charland's 'Grape Soda and Pretzels,' a loping, bluesy tune with a puckishly humorous melody. Voelker whips out his tenor on 'The Greater Good' - a piece that starts out as a somber ballad, only to be whipped up into an admirable free jazz lather during Voelker's impassioned, paint-peeling solo. The music chills during Yennoir's solo, resolving in an icy, pensive, almost ECM-like calm. Other high points include 'Shark Tank,' a sunny, slightly off-kilter tune with a tumbling forward motion that elicit particularly fine solos from Yennoir and Charland; and 'Exuberant Irrationalism' which starts slow and snowballs into a roiling, swinging mass of rhythm with Voelker and Yennoir soloing together over top.

New Album is yet another example of the sort of vital, swinging, tuneful-yet-risky jazz that is bubbling under the surface these days, seemingly unnoticed by major labels and glossy magazines. To me, there is something inherently ironic about such high-caliber music being produced and distributed by the artists themselves, with little or no outside support. Yet, this seems to be the norm these days. Whatever you do, if you read this review and enjoy edgy, all-original jazz played by great musicians, don't let Gypsy Schaeffer pass you by.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Gypsy Schaeffer
  • CD Title: New Album
  • Genre: Progressive
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Peacetime Records
  • Tracks: New Egypt, Live A Little, Black Friday, Standard Candles, Grape Soda And Pretzels, The Greater Good, Welcome Edison, Double Quartet, Shark Tank, Exuberant Irrationalism, Ground Swell, Call To Arms, Identity Crisis
  • Musicians: Joel Yennior (trombone), Andy Voelker (saxophones), Chris Punis (drums), Jef Charland (bass)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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