On Things for Now, Jim Knapp has managed without using smoke or mirrors to raise my emotional response from lukewarm (to his earlier release, On Going Home ) to near–molten. He has done so simply by presenting a series of colorful charts that gladden one’s ear and swing under any and all conditions. While the band is essentially the same as on the previous album, the soloists seem sharper and more focused than before, especially trumpeter Jay Thomas (a personal favorite) who weighs in with a number of memorable choruses. Knapp has added some resourceful conceptions, such as transforming the traditional holiday favorite “The Little Drummer Boy” into a saucy samba (or bossa; I never can tell the difference between the two) or turning another tune backward on itself (“O Paler Mind,” an anagram for “palindrome”). The session’s “bookends” (“Without Joe Henderson. . .,” “Dancing in the Dark”) are luminous examples of perceptive big–band arranging, and everything between them parallels that impressive yardstick. “Joe Henderson” is based on the saxophonist’s reharmonization of the Vincent Youmans standard “Without a Song,” hence its more complete title, “Without Joe Henderson This Song Would Not Be Possible.” As without Jim Knapp this album would not be, and so we applaud him enthusiastically for writing “Joe Henderson,” “O Paler Mind,” “9 Bar Blues” and “Things for Later,” as well as for breathing new life into the “Drummer Boy,” “Dancing in the Dark,” Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks,” Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious Lee” and the two well–upholstered vehicles for the ensemble’s admirable songstress, Jay Clayton, “Where or When” and “The Nearness of You.” Besides Thomas, soloists of note include pianist John Hansen, trombonist Jeff Hay, bassist Chuck Bergeron, drummer John Wikan and saxophonists Hans Teuber, Mark Taylor and Rob Davis. Wikan introduces “Joe Henderson,” which establishes a swinging groove that obtains throughout, even on such slower–paced numbers as “Peacocks” or “Things for Later.” Knapp’s “9 Bar Blues” is a straight–ahead treasure (incorporating razor–keen solos by tenors Teuber and Davis, trombonist Hay and Thomas on trumpet), while the melodically rich “Subconscious Lee” is always a pleasure to hear (especially so with enterprising solo statements from Thomas, bassist Bergeron, pianist Hansen and alto Taylor). While Things for Now may not draw everyone into Knapp’s musical orbit, it has ensnared at least one music–loving heart, the one whose pulse keeps this writer alive and kicking. Simply put, this is a superlative big–band date. Check it out.
Track listing: Without Joe Henderson . . .; The Peacocks; O Paler Mind; The Nearness of You; 9 Bar Blues; Things for Later; Subconscious Lee; Where or When; The Little Drummer Boy; Dancing in the Dark (73:10).
Jim Knapp, conductor; Mark Taylor, Hans Teuber, soprano, alto, tenor sax, flute; Rob Davis, tenor sax, bass clarinet; Greg Metcalf, tenor, baritone sax, clarinet; Brad Allison, Jay Thomas, Jack Halsey, trumpet, flugelhorn; Karen Halsey, French horn; Jeff Hay, trombone; Dave Ritt, Greg Schroeder (