Ken Schaphorst: composer, trumpet, Fender Rhodes; Donny McCaslin and Chris Cheek: tenor sax; Michael Thomas and Jeremy Udden: alto sax; Michael Landrus: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Ralph Alessi, John Carlson, Dave Ballou, and Tony Kadleck: trumpet; Luis Bonilla, Curtis Hasselbring, Jason Jackson: trombone; Jennifer Wharton: bass trombone; Brad Shepik: guitar; Uri Caine: piano; Jerry Leake: percussion; Jay Anderson: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.
Ken Schaphorst, a composer, trumpeter, and educator with more than a decade of experience leading big bands, counts on a great lineup of musicians and friends, including a few former students from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Schaphorst’s modern big bands are typically packed with trendy and inventive jazz instrumentalists, and for this new album, entitled How To Say Goodbye, he maintains this feature. Donny McCaslin, Ralph Alessi, Chris Cheek, Uri Caine, Jay Anderson, and Matt Wilson are incredible performers that need none introduction.
Shifty and animated, the title track immediately lets us know about Schaphorst’s art of orchestration. The tune was written for the trumpeter John Carlson, who evinces an absolute confidence and takes the lead through thoughtful moves.
“Blues for Herb”, dedicated to trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, borrows the fundamental elements of Duke Ellington, adds a touch of Mingus, and jolts with the striking, articulated verbalization of McCaslin on tenor. The engaging saxophonist shines once more in the first part of “Mbira”, an African celebration of exultant rhythms and joyful disposition. The guitarist Brad Shepik assumes a similar role in the second part of the tune, injecting scented folkish sounds and showing how comfortable he moves within the fusion genre.
While the city of Boston is recalled in “Green City”, a tune that evolves harmoniously with a 3/4 time signature, the music of Astor Piazzola was a strong inspiration for “Amnesia”, which is dedicated to Schaphorst’s late grandmother. The former features Chris Cheek on tenor sax, and the latter is dominated by the alto of Michael Thomas.
“Take Back the Country” is another tribute to one of the bandleader’s mentors, the celebrated trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. His influences are blended with Gerry Mulligan’s way, and this combination is fueled by penetrating improvisations of Luis Bonilla on trombone and Brian Landrus on baritone sax.
Schaphorst also takes the opportunity to display his skills on trumpet in “Global Sweet”, a somewhat spiritual chant enveloped in glamour.
The album couldn’t have had a better ending with “Descent”, an impulsively groovy (impeccable foundation by Jay Anderson and Matt Wilson) and vividly swinging piece that shakes us with its emotional robustness. The tune features the irresistible pianist Uri Caine, who becomes lyrical whenever accompanying and effusive when improvising, and also Ralph Alessi, whose melodic movements and rhythmic contortions are both impressive and opportune.
Schaphorst’s genius compositions come from the heart and the thankfulness toward the talents who have been sharing music with him is translated into honest tributes and magical reciprocation. Unabated, How To Say Goodbye was beautifully conceived, standing as one of the big band favorite albums of 2016.
02 – Blues for Herb ► 05 – Take Back the Country ► 10 – Descent