Boston's Gypsy Schaeffer is a quartet of impeccable pedigree. Alto player Andy Voelker & drummer Chris Punis are alumni of the renown Berklee College of Music, while trombonist Joel Yennior studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and bassist Edward Perez comes from Harvard--where he studied math. Their self-titled debut on PeaceTime Records collects twelve original compositions by Voelker and Yennior, combining hard bop with harmolodics and, rhythmically, a slight Latin accent.
As a unit the band is somewhat reminiscent of the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet and Impulse!-era Archie Shepp, even though none of the individual players exactly resemble those artists. This is probably a result of the piano-less format. Yennior & Voelker do interact in manner similar to Don Cherry & Coleman at times, but the compositional structure is a bit tighter. They also play with a concision that one does not associate with the avant-garde; the median song length is just over five and a half minutes.
One thing I like about Gypsy Schaeffer is that they play with a sense of humor. "I Want to Go to Havana" has some Latin influence in the rhythm and it also shares a baseline with "Smoke on the Water," of all things. "Joisey Boys Shuffle" (everybody but Perez can ultimately be traced back to the Garden State) is like the aural version of a scene from a movie following drunken sailors from one neon bar sign to another. "De-Training" shows them to be adept at handling the blues.
It's no wonder Berklee and Boston have such stellar reputations. Look at the players they produce. Gypsy Schaeffer
is a fine debut CD, adventurous but not rudderless. Yennior & Voelker are able and promising composers as well as players.