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The Mike Kaplan Nonet: How's That?

Jack Bowers By

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Saxophonist Mike Kaplan and his New York City-based nonet play contemporary jazz; that is to say, jazz that is emphatically modern but neither purposely bland nor maddeningly incomprehensible.

Kaplan’s debut album contains a number of tasty musical surprises, and it's one of only a handful to leave me wishing the leader had soloed more often (Kaplan does so at length only on his entrancing “Melody for My Mom”). Even so, his fingerprints are conspicuous throughout, as Kaplan wrote five of the nine selections, co-authored “Sudden Stranger” with Keith Beesley, and arranged everything save alto saxophonist Bob Hanlon’s “In Reality.” Completing the program are Mickey Tucker’s “The Crawl” and a pair of acknowledged Jazz classics, Cedar Walton’s “Firm Roots” and Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya.”

The six-member front line includes trumpeters Rob Henke and Bill Mobley, baritone / soprano Ed Xiques alongside Kaplan and Hanlon in the reed section, and either Ben Williams or Pete McGuinness on trombone. Guest guitarist Rick Langmaack makes it a tentet on four selections and solos splendidly on “The Crawl” and “Bye-Ya.” Hanlon’s Phil Woods-ish alto is featured on “In Reality” and Kaplan’s “For CM,” Xiques’ gossamer soprano on “Sudden Stranger” and gruff baritone on “Firm Roots” and “Bye-Ya.” Pianist Matt King is impressive on “In Reality,” “Melody for My Mom” and “Firm Roots,” as are Williams (“How’s That?,” “Orange Circle Funk”), McGuinness (“The Crawl,” “Bye-Ya”), Mobley (“In Reality,” “Firm Roots”), Henke (“Orange Circle Funk”) and drummer Pete MacDonald (“How’s That?,” “Bye-Ya”) — but no more so than Kaplan whose easygoing deposition on “Melody for My Mom” is among the album’s high points.

Kaplan’s compositions are always interesting, and if they don’t quite measure up to “Firm Roots” or “Bye-Ya,” that’s no blot on his escutcheon, as there aren’t many that can. There’s funk aplenty on “How’s That?” and “Orange Circle,” invigorating changes in mood and tempo on “For CM” (dedicated to Charles Mingus) and lovely silhouettes to study on “Melody for My Mom” and “Sudden Stranger.”

Another entry in an already overcrowded arena, it’s true, but one that’s definitely worth the effort to find.

Contact: North Country Distributors, 315-287-2852 (e-mail northcountry@cadencebuilding.com) or visit Mike Kaplan Nonet on the web.


Track Listing: How

Personnel: Mike Kaplan, tenor sax, arranger; Rob Henke, Bill Mobley, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ben Williams (1, 2, 4, 6, 9), Pete McGuinness (3, 5, 7, 8), trombone; Bob Hanlon, alto sax, clarinet; Ed Xiques, baritone, soprano sax; Matt King, piano; Doug Weiss, bass; Pete MacDonald, drums. Special guest -- Rick Langmaack (1, 3, 6, 8), guitar.

Title: How's That? | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Semi-Sweet Records

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