Jeffrey Schanzer Ensemble - Vistas

Overlooked NYC avant-jazz from 1987

  • Label: MusicVistas
  • Catalog Number: MusicVistas001
  • Year: 2018

Four pieces of long-form avant-jazz from a group of venerable NYC performers

Vistas back cover

This album came into my possession care of the incredible Groove Yard record shop in Oakland, where owner and local legend Rick Ballard has bought, sold, and distributed jazz and soul records for the better part of 4 decades. As an importer of avant-garde and forward-thinking Jazz and classical in the 70s and 80s, the Rick Ballard Imports sticker is a common and welcome sight to any Bay Area digger. Rick continues to stock and champion labels like Black Saint, Hat Hut, Lovely Music, along side all kinds of private press experiments. 

Jeffrey Schanzer is a lesser-known US composer and guitarist, and this self-released album marks the only credit of his Jeffrey Schanzer Ensemble. Although Schanzer's name was unknown to me when I stumbled across the LP, the ensemble's roster is an impressive collection of NYC players of the era, including violinist and String Trio of New York alum Leroy Jenkins, reedman Ned Rothenberg, and prolific percussionist Bobby Previte near the beginning of his career. 

Vistas center labels

The four lengthy compositions are pointillistic, percussive pieces of meticulous construction, alternating between hypnotic looping phrases, syncopated post-bop, and alien harmonic interplay. It's hardly a pure jazz outing, and at the same time a far cry from the super-angular moves of post-jazz contemporaries like John Zorn. The precise-yet-alien style recalls early Anthony Davis, or perhaps Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction, informed equally by spiritual jazz and post-serial classical approaches. The innovative use of prepared guitar and Bobby Previte's restrained marimba work allow certain segments to transcend jazz entirely, invoking 20th century minimalism in a way that's quite unique. 

As of this writing, there are still a few $10-15 copies on Discogs if physical media is your thing!