2019 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Miles Davis
sextet's acclaimed album, Kind of Blue
(Columbia). While the tributes didn't exactly pour in, New York-based composer / arranger Jon Schapiro
took it upon himself not only to revisit that classic session but to re-orchestrate it for a large ensemble (the Schapiro 17) and flesh it out with half a dozen compositions of his own and another by pianist Roberta Piket
. In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, all of Schapiro's themes (and Piket's) on the splendid two-CD set New Shoes
are anagrams of Kind of Blue
"Boiled Funk" 1-5 by Schapiro, "Foiled Bunk" by Piket. The last four of Schapiro's essays include subtitles: "Dark of Night," "Worth Your While," "Old Feet, New Shoes" and "A Smile." There is a closing theme, also labeled (not surprisingly) "Boiled Funk."
Of course, the five movements in the original album aren't overlooked, simply reshaped by Schapiro to accommodate his superb seventeen-member ensemble, not in pursuit of the unlikely goal of improving upon the memorable performance of Davis, John Coltrane
, Bill Evans
and their colleagues but instead saluting their historic endeavor while refreshing and amplifying it for a new generation of listeners. To that end, the five longest tracks on New Shoes
are those on the seminal Kind of Blue:
"So What," "Blue in Green," "All Blues," "Flamenco Sketches" and "Freddie Freeloader." The end result is an anthology that not only lends added color to the original but in some cases (dare it be said?) swings even harder.
Disc 1 opens (naturally) with Schapiro's prefatory "Boiled Funk," whose shifting tempos accommodate agile solos by tenor saxophonist Paul Carlon
and trombonist Deborah Weisz
. "Foiled Bunk," which follows, is a showcase for Piket's inquisitive solo piano and leads to a burnished, angled version of "So What," with Alex Jeun
shining on trombone and Rob Wilkerson
faring likewise on soprano sax. Piket's tasteful piano introduces the meditative "Dark of Night," on which Wilkerson, again on soprano, spreads his intuitive wings, before CD 1 closes with "Blue in Green," a horn-driven anthem whose genial midsection features tenor Rob Middleton
. Disc 2 opens on a fiery note as trumpeter Andy Gravish
's blistering solo enlivens "Worth Your While." The swinging continues apace on "All Blues," an up-tempo spree enclosing ardent solos by tenor Carlon, trombonist Alex Jeun
and trumpeter Eddie Allen
and zealous work by the ensemble. Alto Candace DeBartolo
is exceptionally keen and resourceful on the fast-moving "Old Feet, New Shoes," while guitarist Sebastian Noelle
is loose and eloquent on the easygoing "Flamenco Sketches."
Piket makes a charming reappearance on "A Smile," soloing with her usual insight and assurance. Schapiro's lustrous arrangement of "Freddie Freeloader," the last of the five songs reprised from Kind of Blue,
calls to mind the great Henry Mancini
whose jazz works were invariably hip and engaging. Its shifting tempos are subdued by a number of able soloists including Piket, Gravish, Harris, Carlon, bassist Evan Gregor
and baritone Matt Hong
. Speaking of swing, the square-shouldered finale, "Boiled Funk: Theme" has that in abundance, pressing implacably onward (alongside brief echoes of Jimmy Forrest
's "Night Train") behind crisp solos by Piket, Middleton, Carlon, Gravish and trombonist Nick Grinder
. Before closing, praise must be accorded to Jon Wikan
for his sharp and tasteful drumming and to Gregor for his exemplary timekeeping, each an indispensable component of the album's success, as are Schapiro's bright and impressive charts. And even though Schapiro's warmhearted homage to Kind of Blue
was completed some sixty years after the fact, it would surely have warranted an appreciative bow and earnest tip of the hat from the maestros who did it first.