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Album Review

Jim Knapp Orchestra: It's Not Business, It's Personal

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Jim Knapp Orchestra: It's Not Business, It's Personal
The Jim Knapp Orchestra's CD It's Not Business, It's Personal, recorded in February 2009, was set to be released on November 19, 2021—six days after Knapp died at age eighty-two in Kirkland, Washington. Apart from his role as bandleader, Knapp was a trumpeter, composer, arranger and longtime faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Described by Grammy-winning composer/pianist Jim McNeely as "a brilliant musician, great teacher and a humble, sweet [and] generous man," Knapp was widely recognized as the architect of Seattle's contemporary jazz scene. He had lived in that city for more than half a century, leading ensembles of various sizes and points of view while mentoring younger musicians at Cornish and elsewhere including his successor as director of the JKO, trumpeter and saxophonist Jay Thomas.

Knapp was also known for his picturesque and radiant arrangements and unique orchestral voicings; It's Personal scores high in both quarters, with special credit for his ingenious use of woodwinds. There are times, as on "The Presence of Absence" or "Gray Skies," when the thought intrudes that this is what the Modern Jazz Quartet may have sounded like if it were an orchestra—and others ("Forward Motion," "Nerds of Steel") wherein Knapp proves he could swing in the finest Woody Herman/Count Basie tradition, albeit with his own singular approach to melody, rhythm and counterpoint.

All eight of the album's songs were written and arranged by Knapp. Besides those already noted, they include the irrepressible opener, "Miami Vince," on which dazzling passages by flutes, trombones and rhythm lead to nimble solos by pianist John Hansen and soprano saxophonist Mark Taylor; the introspective, through-written "Afterthought," light-hearted "Kumasi" and inward-leaning "Modal Horizon." Taylor on alto, trumpeter Vern Sielert, trombonists Chris Stover and Jeff Hay, drummer Matt Jorgensen and flugel Brad Allison spread their wings on "Kumasi," Hansen and tenor saxophonist Steve Treseler on "Modal Horizon."

Flutes play a leading role on "The Presence of Absence" (solos by Taylor and Hansen), while rhythm and brass shine on "Kumasi" and Knapp ties it all together on "Modal Horizon," using the full range of sonic color to underscore its pensive theme. Thomas takes his lone solo (on flugelhorn) on "Nerds of Steel," as does French horn maestro Tom Varner, with crisp statements as well by Hay and Treseler. There is a wealth of musical talent in the greater Seattle area, and one cannot help but assume that Knapp enlisted a large share of the city's best and brightest to comprise his fourteen-member ensemble. That impression is certainly borne out by It's Personal, as the orchestra is nothing short of superior—as are Knapp's superb compositions and arrangements. As legacies go, this is spot on, about as sharp and engaging as one could imagine.

Track Listing

Miami Vince; Afterthought; The Presence of Absence; Kumasi; Gray Skies; Forward Motion; Modal Horizon; Nerds of Steel.

Personnel

Jim Knapp: composer/conductor; Jim Knapp Orchestra: composer/conductor; Paul Taub: flute; Mark Taylor - Saxophone: saxophone; Steve Treseler: saxophone; Stuart MacDonald: woodwinds; Jim Dejoie: woodwinds; Brad Allison: trumpet; Vern Sielert: trumpet; Jay Thomas: multi-instrumentalist; Tom Varner: french horn; Jeff Hay: trombone; Chris Stover: trombone; John Hansen: piano; Jon Hamar: bass, acoustic; Matt Jorgensen: drums.

Album information

Title: It's Not Business, It's Personal | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Origin Records

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