The word “Jazzformation” is a neologism: a newly coined name, which repurposes two existing words to identify a new concept. Saxophonist and composer Jim Gailloreto has taken one term, for a musical genre at which he excels, and appended it to a word that means creation, accretion, and synthesis. The resulting hybrid carries the sense of both the original words, and something more – the sense that within this new word lies new information as well.
The quartet called Jazzformation is also a sort of neologism; in it, Gailloreto and his cohorts repurpose existing compositions and well-established genres, in order to refresh them for a new audience in a new century. And in their refashioned versions of jazz classics, Jazzformation achieves a subtle alchemy, altering these original works while retaining their elemental integrity.
To see how this works, start at the top, with Gailloreto’s version of “Moment’s Notice,” the hard-bop anthem written by John Coltrane more than a half-century ago. The song itself is a genial juggernaut; it wouldn’t seem to need much help in building momentum. But Gailloreto gives it a little extra “hop” by squeezing the melody – originally written in 4/4 time – into a 7/4 and then 5/4 meter.
The effect is disorienting, but not in the least unpleasant – a slight funhouse-mirror distortion of the truth, off-kilter but fully recognizable. In its original form, “Moment’s Notice” treads what has become familiar turf; listeners have ready access to Coltrane’s own recording of the tune, as well as dozens of respectful note-perfect cover versions. The liberties taken by Jazzformation let us see the tune through a different lens, and thus appreciate the original – even while we admire the new approach.
Changing meters has become a favored technique for Jazzformation. Wayne Shorter’s muscular 4/4 melody “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum,” when shoehorned into a 3/4 tempo, turns jaunty and puckish (and gains the revised title “Three Fi Fo Fum”). Dizzy Gillespie’s mid-50s gem “Con Alma” gets a makeover to a 5/4 'A' section into 4/4 Bridge, and the lopsided rhythm enhances the original melody’s already exhilarating Afro-Cuban lope. The band returns to the 7/4 meter for Benny Golson’s indelible (and often covered) “Stablemates”, and also for Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” – as if Monk’s use of unexpected phrase lengths and unorthodox pauses hadn’t made the original tune tricky enough.
But Gailloreto’s band manages to modernize and reformulate these songs even when not messing around with the time. Much of this has to do with the instrumentation – or rather, the lack of one instrument in particular. Almost every song here (save for “Falling Grace” and “Isfahan”) was originally conceived for and played by a traditional jazz combo, which is to say that it included a piano; the lack of any keyboard in this band immediately lifts these tunes out of their original context.
And so does the youthful, unbounded rhythm section that Gailloreto has enlisted for this band. John Kregor, an edgy and arresting guitarist, has most recently gained attention as a member of vocalist-pianist Patricia Barber’s band in their weekly showcase at Chicago’s famed Green Mill. Kurt Schweitz, a bassist with a lovely full tone, has appeared with a number of Chicago groups around the midwest, impressing listeners with his strong technique and engrossing solos. And on drums, Andre Beasley has used his dozen years on the Chicago scene to ingratiate himself with such respected bandleaders as guitarist Bobby Broom and pianist Ron Perrillo.
Jazzformation grew out of a chance on-stage meeting between Gailloreto and the rhythm team of Schweitz and Beasley; the saxophonist walked away marveling at the way these two musicians – neither of whom he had previously worked with – so readily meshed with his own approach to improvisation, rife with hypermelodic phrasing and unexpected harmonies. Shortly later, when Gailloreto obtained a steady Monday-night gig at a local barbecue joint, he jumped at the chance to work further with these musicians. The saxist was emboldened by this opportunity to stretch his own explorations within such a compatible framework – and by the subsequent addition of Kregor, who spins the sort of discursive yet engaging lines that mark Gailloreto’s own playing.
Two years of weekly performances allowed the band to develop its own identity and build a sizable repertoire. And it placed Gailloreto in a position he loves: growing new jazz concepts with musicians new to him, from whose fresh perspectives he can re-invigorate his own creativity.
Jazzformation also provided a framework in which Gailloreto could reconceptualize the jazz canon. The saxophonist has spent the last decade or so leading bands that concentrate on his original compositions, as well as his striking arrangements of extant songs. The acme of this activity is his Jazz String Quintet, in which Gailloreto’s soprano sax provides the lead voice and improvisational presence among a classical string quartet – a unique, adventurous fusion that has garnered him several composition grants while yielding two of the four albums under his own name. (To be clear, though, his two other albums reveal a similar penchant: on each he pushes the envelope to arrive outside his comfort zone, with rewarding results.)
During this time, Gailloreto has also found himself in great demand interpreting others’ compositions, from touring-musical theater pits to symphonic halls: he regularly receives calls to play with the world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra, when a particular score contains a part for saxophone. But he has missed the opportunity to interpret existing compositions from within jazz; the current band fills this need as well.
And so, Jazzformation: a quartet that blends old and new; a fresh musical statement combining tradition, novelty, structure, and flight; and another intriguing expedition led by one of modern music’s true explorers.