Following its splendid premiere recording, an exploration of Miles Davis
' unrivaled album Kind Of Blue
(Capitol Records, 1959), composer/arranger Jon Schapiro
's 17-member ensemble broadens its horizons on Human Qualities,
pairing seven of the maestro's astute and adventurous charts with the Roberta Flack best-seller, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." This time around, Schapiro proves that he need rely on nothing more than his own considerable experience as a jazz artist to create an album that expresses his point of view and accomplishes its purpose.
When that posture involves straight-ahead swinging it is very good indeed; and even when it doesn't, it is seldom less than engaging. The emphatic Basie spirit is alive and well on the sunny opener, "Count Me In," with pianist Roberta Piket
sitting in for the Count, and guitarist Sebastian Noelle
for Freddie Green
, on an irrepressible groover that calls to mind Basie's early era, one that produced such classic riffs as "One O'Clock Jump" and "Lester Leaps In." Stalwart solos courtesy of Piket, tenor Rob Middleton
(channeling his inner Lester Young
) and trombonist Deborah Weisz
. "Tango," which follows, is a laid-back version of the fiery Latin dance showcasing Matt Hong
's supple baritone. The lower end of Piket's keyboard is the launching pad for "Hmmm," a rhythmic powerhouse whose enticing melody and lively shout-outs by brass and reeds lead to muscular solos by trumpeter Andy Gravish
and tenor Paul Carlon
, some brisk four-bar exchanges and more of Piket's barrelhouse licks.
Schapiro's low-key arrangement of the album's lone ballad, "The First Time," whose amiable solos are delivered by Piket and trumpeter Eddie Allen
, precedes the contrapuntal "Human Qualities," wherein Piket's piano plays hide-and-seek with brass and reeds before alto saxophonist Rob Wilkerson
and trombonist Nick Grinder
take their turns, engirding the ensemble and drummer Jon Wikan
as the tempo undergoes subtle changes, and Piket resurfaces to draw some shapely lines in the sand, while Wilkerson and Grinder trade fours before brass and reeds wrap the package. The dirge-like "Hallelujah," which follows, opens well enough on the wings of Carlon's ardent tenor but overstays its welcome long before the 11:39 playing time has run its course. Happily, the group vitality returns on "A Bounce in Her Step," whose cool-bop cadences call to mind the West Coast scene of well over half a century ago. The carefree melody draws from Charlie Parker
's "Billie's Bounce" and other themes, while the well-aimed solos are delivered by Wilkerson and trombonist Walter Harris
. The album ends with a rocking second- line excursion to New Orleans to wager some "House Money" as Alex Jeun
's muted wah-wah trombone enhances the tune's upbeat mood. Wikan and the rhythm section (Piket, Noelle, bassist Evan Gregor
) are sharp and sturdy here, as they are on every number.
If there is such a thing as a sophomore jinx, Schapiro manages to avoid it with ease on Human Qualities,
a worthy successor to the Schapiro 17's impressive debut. Let us hope that the third time, whenever that happens, is also a charm.
Count Me Out; Tango; Hmmm; The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face; Human Qualities;
Hallelujah; A Bounce in Her Step; House Money.
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