Miles Davis' album Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959) is the best-selling jazz album of all time and has been highly influential for the last 60 years. Most of its five tracks have become jazz standards and have been interpreted time and again. However it is rare to see the entire album reworked to the extent that Jon Schapiro and his big band, Schapiro 17, do here. The tracks undergo extensive retooling, expanding into big band arrangements that carry on the lineage of writers like Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely.
"So What"'s theme is played by pianist Roberta Piket against a forest of cascading horns before energetic solos emerge from Alex Jeun on trombone, Rob Wilkerson on soprano sax and Andy Gravish on trumpet. "Blue In Green" starts as a serene orchestral wave led by Piket and guitarist Sebastian Noelle. Then drifting brass surges emerge and fill in the gaps between a high arching quartet of alto, trumpet, trombone and guitar, Rob Middleton's sure-footed tenor and Piket's elegant solo. Bits of the familiar "All Blues" melody are rearranged into small group swirls and spikes before the familiar lazy swing shows up briefly from the full band. Jeun, Paul Carlon and Eddie Allen take athletic solos as the orchestra continues to play the melody at changing tempos over an underlying quick-paced rhythm that sounds like Gil Evans' "La Nevada." "Flamenco Sketches" is largely a showcase for Noelle's billowing guitar as it quietly chimes against subtle piano riffing reminiscent of Eddie Heywood's "Canadian Sunset." The theme of "Freddie Freeloader" is more suggested than actually played throughout the moody blues atmosphere conjured by the rhythm section, with drawn-out horn notes underlining Piket's dirty blues playing and Walter Harris' lowdown trombone. The band temporarily shifts into a faster tempo with Carlon's tenor racing on top before Matt Hong's baritone sax sends it all back to the blues.
This project covers two CDs, in part because Shapiro intersperses the five classic pieces with seven works of his own, most carrying the title "Boiled Funk," an anagram of "kind of blue." "Boiled Funk" itself is an extended rocking full band romp in the Evans-Brookmeyer manner propelled by Jon Wikan's drumming. The rest are briefer statements featuring individual soloists, such as Wilkerson's soprano rolling over eerie band waves on "Boiled Funk 2: Dark Of Night" and Piket stabbing bluesy trickles against wary horn clusters on "Boiled Funk 5: A Smile."
There are many excellent soloists featured in this work but Roberta Piket is, in many ways, the hero of the entire project. Her earthy fills make an impish contrast to the forceful blasts of the full band and her solos have a rolling, soulful ease worthy of Bill Evans himself. Anytime the music sounds too imposing she is there bringing a cool humanity to the proceedings.
Overall Jon Schapiro's revamp of Kind Of Blue is an impressive updating and elaboration of the matchless original. It has a power and imagination that stands up well alongside the more faithful orchestral versions of the material that Gil Evans and others have done over the years.
CD 1 Boiled Funk; Foiled Bunk; So What; Boiled Funk 2: Dark of Night; Blue in Green. CD 2 Boiled Funk 3: Worth Your While; All Blues; Boiled Funk 4: Old Feet, New Shoes; Flamenco Sketches; Boiled Funk 5: A Smile; Freddie Freeloader; Boiled Funk / Theme.
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