The Jim Knapp Orchestra at the L.A.B. Performance Space in Seattle
After intermission the infectious title track from the Secular Breathing CD got things off to a perky and perspicacious start. Mark Taylor took a real gem of a tenor saxophone solo and the section scoring utilizing three tenors and a baritone had a deeply resonant yet lightly swinging feel that suggested a latter-day version of Woody Herman's classic "Four Brothers band. Bassist Phil Sparks also soloed impressively on this piece.
"Things for Later is a contemplative, introspective Knapp composition. The scoring for clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone and alto saxophone had an especially velvet-like texture, with three flugelhorns and French horn gently brushing the nap. Saul Cline took a thoughtful and expressive tenor saxophone solo and Jay Thomas a buttery smooth (in the real sense of the word "smooth ) flugelhorn solo. There was a lovely solo piano interlude and a marvelously sotto voce note at the very end by Varner with mute in place that hung in the air like a Calder mobile.
Former Seattle resident Aaron Alexander, a drummer who now lives in New York City, wrote "Wild West, an exuberant and multi-faceted composition. Varner's splendid solo began abstractly indeed, plumbing the depths of the horn's range, sounding much like a baritone horn or a tuba. He gradually progressed into the midrange, then above: a bison morphing into an antelope. Then the saxophonists took their turns in the solo saddle. Jim Dejoie's baritone was at first accompanied only by bass, then rolling mallets on toms, and things began to get pretty "free. Dejoie dovetailed with Mark Taylor on alto then dropped out as Taylor soloed in muscular fashion. Toward the end of Taylor's spot it was Steve Treseler on tenor saxophone who joined in making it a duo for a bit. The feeling here was deeply spiritual, as it was when Treseler soloed with only Phil Sparks' bass and a few well-placed percussive interjections in support, reminding me of Joe McPhee's trio work. The pattern of solo to duo to solo continued with Saul Cline taking a great turn in the spotlight before the whole reed section kicked in. There was an Ayler-esque feeling to the final part of this performance, as ghosts of early spirituals, archaic hymn tunes and brass bands seemed to hover in the background, certainly pertinent to the piece's title.
Knapp's "5-4-3 sported delicious scoring, with the use of two clarinets and flute providing outstandingly bright moments. Saul Cline took a nice flute solo, Mark Taylor another striking alto solo and John Hansen sounded very fine indeed at the piano.
Another Kurt Weill melody, "Here I'll Stay, was a feature for the mobile and meaningful trombone of Jeff Hay. Knapp's imaginative arranging again provided a potpourri of timbres, with the paired flutes of Saul Cline and Mark Taylor and the combination of the two flutes with clarinet a focal point. Knapp exhibits a noteworthy affinity for Weill.
The untitled up-tempo piece that closed the concert had wonderful solos from Tom Varner on French horn and Jay Thomas on muted trumpet, as well as some spectacular lead trumpet playing from Brad Allison.
Let's hope that The Jim Knapp Orchestra's first Monday of the month series at L.A.B. becomes as much of a longstanding tradition in Seattle as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Mondays at the Village Vanguard became in New York City back in the day.