Unlike some Jazz composers who write unpretentious big–band charts designed to serve as springboards for soloists, Ken Schaphorst approaches the task with soloists in mind but focuses always on orchestral textures and colors, employing improvisation as an integral element in the over–all compositional makeup. Instead of playing “outside” the chart with rhythm accompaniment, as is so often the case, Schaphorst’s soloists usually must adapt to its nuances, tailoring their approach to suit its particular needs without sacrificing warmth or creativity. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — and the outcome rests in every case on the essential magnetism of Schaphorst’s charts. As this is always a matter of personal taste, what is written here should be considered as one person’s imperfect opinion. In brief, I found much of Schaphorst’s new release, Purple, heavy–handed and unimpressive. It is only when the composer steps aside and lets things breathe (as on parts of “Job im,” “Bats,” “My Island” and “Bounce”) that the ensemble responds with intensity and emotion. Elsewhere, its best efforts are subsumed by those very components that should lend the session its strength and charisma. While Schaphorst’s purpose is to weave orchestra and soloists into an organic whole, in pursuing it he too often loses sight of the cardinal purpose of Jazz, which is to swing. Purple swings only at times, and those times occur without exception when Schaphorst loosens the reins and lets the musicians gallop at their own pace and in their own direction. The most agreeable solos (trumpeter Gravish, tenor McCaslin on “Bats,” pianist Caine and trombonist Roseman on “My Island,” trombonist Hasselbring, tenor Blake, trumpeter Ballou on “Bounce,” the uncredited trumpet on “Jobim”) are produced under those circumstances. McCaslin is less effective on “Uprising,” Caine likewise on “Purple,” while guitarist Shepik is showy but irksome on “Blues Almighty” and organist! Medeski is on the whole unimpressive. There are some invigorating moments on Purple, but not enough of them to earn this reviewer’s endorsement. Again, that is only one listener’s opinion.
Track listing: Uprising; With You, Then Without; Blues Almighty; Jobim; Subterranean; Purple; Bats; My Island; Bounce (72:33).
Doug Yates, alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Jay Brandford, alto sax, clarinet; Donny McCaslin, Seamus Blake, tenor sax; Andy Laster, baritone sax, clarinet; Dave Ballou, John Carlson, Andy Gravish, Cuong Vu, trumpet, flugelhorn; Josh Roseman, Curtis Hasselbring, Dave Taylor, trombone; Chris Creswell, bass trombone (on