As a jazz fan who’s listening preferences tend toward small group recordings, I find big band recordings, by definition tend to be, well...BIG. Most large ensembles, like ocean liners, have trouble maneuvering, their sounds tend to be crowded and loud. By the time Leonardo screams “iceberg” it’s too late, the record is sunk. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed Purple by captain and arranger Ken Schaphorst, his 19-piece band steers clear of the largeness. Schaphorst, the director of Jazz studies at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, enlist a modern who’s-who list of hot studio and club musicians to occupy his Big Band. Several, like John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Doug Yates, Josh Roseman, Curtis Hasselbring, and John Carlson are members or alumni of Boston’s Either/Orchestra. Others are the names that obsessive jazz fans know to be the next big label signees, like guitarist Brad Shepik, bassist Drew Gress, pianist Uri Caine, and trumpeter Cuong Vu. Schaphorst’s writing and arranging, like that of Duke Ellington, is for individual musicians. On “Blues Almighty,” Soloists John Medeski’s Hammond B-3 organ and Brad Shepik’s guitar sound as gritty as a duo bar band and Uri Caine’s piano doesn’t so much solo on the title track as it hovers above the eighteen others. Schaphorst accomplishes a very Mingus-like smallness in this large ensemble. Like a Charles Mingus composition, Dave Taylor’s growling bass saxophone and Doug Yates’ bass clarinet provide the soul on “Subterranean.” While Ken Schaphorst’s Purple may not be the king of the world, it sure is a prince of a recording.
Track List:Uprising; With You, Then Without; Blues Almighty; Jobim; Subterranean; Purple; Bats; My island; Bounce
Personnel: Doug Yates - Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet; Jay Branford - Alto Saxophone, Clarinet; Seamus Blake - Tenor Saxophone; Andy Laster - Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet; Dave Ballou- Trumpet, Flugelhorn; John Carlson - Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Andy Gravish - Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Cuong Vu - Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Josh Roseman - Trombone; Curtis Hasselbring - Trombone; Dave Taylor - Bass Trombone; Chris Creswell - Bass Trombone; Uri Caine - Piano; John Medeski - Hammond B-3, Clavinet, Wurlitzer Elec. Piano; Brad Shepik - Guitar; Drew Gress - Bass; Jamey Haddad - Drums, Percussion; Dane Richeson - Drums, Percussion