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Ken Schaphorst Big Band

How to Say Goodbye

JCA Recordings 1602

 

 

 

1. How to Say Goodbye

2. Blues for Herb (Donny McCaslin – tenor)

3. Mbira 1

4. Green City - (Chris Cheek tenor)

5. Amnesia

6. Take Back the Country

7. Float (Uri Caine – piano)

8. Mbira 2

9. Global Sweat

10. Descent

Ken Schaphorst, *tpt/ Fender gtr

Tony Kadleck, Dave Ballou, John Carlson, Ralph Alessi, tpt/fl-hn

Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, Curtis Hasselbring, tbn

Jennifer Wharton, bs-tbn

Michael Thomas, a-sax/s-sax/cl

Jeremy Udden, a-sax

Donny McCaslin, Chris Cheek, t-sax

Brian Landrus, bar-sax/bs-cl

Uri Caine, pn

Brad Shepik, gtr

Jay Anderson, bs

Matt Wilson, dm

Jerry Leake, perc

How to Say Goodbye is an outstanding big band album. The title relates to bandleader Ken Schaphorst’s intention to pay homage to several of the main influences on his life and work, from his grandmother (‘Amnesia’) to the great educationalist and jazz orchestrator Herb Pomeroy (‘Blues for Herb’). Schaphorst has been chair of the Jazz Studies Department at New England Conservatory since 2001 and has assembled a terrific band of colleagues and students, past and present, for this project.

The compositions are all written by the leader, and while several critics have celebrated the originality of the album, it might also be regarded as a distillation of the big band tradition. ‘Green City’, a tone poem to Boston, opens with a unison line for brass and saxes that could have been lifted from Basie. ‘Blues for Herb’ contains echoes of Ellington’s later suites in both the melody and the wonderful saxophone arrangement. ‘Amnesia’ contains writing of which Quincy Jones would be proud, while ‘Float’ combines the close harmonies characteristic of Maria Schneider’s tributes to Gil Evans, with subtle echoes of American marches reminiscent of Carla Bley’s most striking work. ‘Mbira’, on the other hand, opens with Schaphorst channelling Herbie Hancock on fender rhodes, while ‘Global Sweat’ opens like a Coltrane track with Chris Cheek’s saxophone rising over rippling ambiguous chords on the piano. Musicians may react with some legitimate exasperation at the reviewer’s tendency to always find echoes of earlier recordings in their work, but here such echoes seem to be part of the intention. Schaphorst is paying tribute to, and perhaps saying goodbye in an increasingly difficult economic context, to the now century-old big band tradition.

In addition to the evocative compositions and intricate arrangements, the album is packed with terrific solos, all usefully identified on the CD’s packaging. It would be invidious to select individuals for particular praise, but the opening title track is a vehicle for trumpeter John Carlson, who takes full advantage of the opportunity to shine. ‘Blues for Herb’, the tribute to Pomeroy, includes a brilliant, sinewy, solo by tenor saxophonist Don McCaslin, while Uri Caine’s endless inventiveness on the piano is heard to great effect on ‘Float’ and ‘Descent’.

If I had to pick a favourite track, it would be the tribute to trombonist and orchestrator Bob Brookmeyer, ‘Take Back the Country’. Donald Trump had just been elected American President as I wrote this review, and the title's echo of recent Presidential races is not accidental. Brookmeyer bought property in Canada in 2000 in order to protest an election in which, due to the US’s electoral college system, Republican George W. Bush was elected President despite the Democrat Al Gore winning the popular vote that year. This track, then, takes the country back from the hands of the Right and does so in the shape of an original melody that could be an American folk song, highly reminiscent of Brookmeyer’s work with another tutor at New England Conservatory, the underrated Jimmy Guiffre. That connection is intensified by the choice of Luis Bonilla as first soloist on trombone, followed by Brian Landrus on baritone sax, one of the many wind instruments on which Guiffre excelled. This is music that has made America great in the past, and may yet outlast this period of reaction.

Daniel G. Williams




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