Gypsy Schaeffer's last outing -- Portamental (PeaceTime‚ 2007)‚ a Dada-esque spin on Old School NOLA musical forms -- brought new meaning to the term "off-kilter." What made Portamental for me was its intelligence and whimsy; it seemed like every track had a twist M. Night Shyamalan would appreciate. 'New Album' has great writing‚ solid performances from all four players‚ and some twists and turns of its own. However‚ like a Shyamalan film‚ things get risky when the twists dominate the story.
There's nothing risky about Andy Voelker's "New Egypt‚" which opens Album with a resounding bang. Voelker's soprano sax teams with Joel Yennior's trombone to create singularly good harmony. After a quick in-the-clear dialogue‚ Voelker takes the bit in his teeth and launches a soaring solo over the rhythm section's blistering bebop foundation. The groove is traditional‚ but the music Voelker and Yennior makes is anything but; their unique sound shows a comfortable musical familiarity‚ as well as a common desire to make audience's eyes bug out.
Gypsy seems to have moved away from the "Big Easy on Crack" sound of Portamental‚ and that's not a bad thing‚ especially since their brilliant sense of texture has survived the transition: Yennior's hypnotic "Black Friday" proves it's all about the brush strokes‚ not the big splashes; bassist Jef Charland's "Grape Soda and Pretzels" alternates between Steady Eddie marching band and sexed-up jazz groove; and the group composition "Call to Arms" is a surrealistic war story that evokes the brutal subjective camera work in Saving Private Ryan.
If "Call" was the only experiment on Album‚ I'd say "Job well done!" The problem is‚ over half the disc is dedicated to non-traditional‚ Graduate-level abstracts that stretch the envelope until it starts to shred. As separate works‚ they're brilliant - particularly the schizophrenic "Identity Crisis‚" which takes you inside one person's crack-up. Taken as a group‚ though‚ they're a pretty rich meal to get through in one sitting‚ let alone digest in polite company.

I love 'New Album'‚ because I live for music that gives my frontal lobe a good‚ swift kick. That said‚ this disc is a lot like fixing the economy: It's hard work‚ and there are no easy answers.