Last year we covered Schapiro17’s debut recording, New Shoes: Kind of Blue at 60 on these pages. Human Qualities is the follow-up with this same 17-piece band and seven new Schapiro compositions plus a fresh rendition of a classic ballad. Jon Schapiro’s consistently surprising arrangements keep one guessing and inspire his sidemen to play at their most inventive. This is a heavy sounding large ensemble with four trombones, five saxophones, including a baritone, four trumpets and a rhythm section that includes both a guitarist and pianist. Although we were introduced to composer/arranger Schapiro’s originals on the predecessor, this one has originals as seven of the eight.
The opener “Count Me Out,” begins with the orchestra sounding a bit like Count Basie’s, at least until the arrangement becomes much more modern during Rob Middleton’s tenor solo, followed by adventurous spots for trombonist Deborah Weisz and pianist Roberta Piket. “Tango” is a showcase for the fluent bari saxophonist Matt Hong, whose playing over an implied tango strut and some stormy ensembles is quite impressive. “Hmmm” has the full group swinging as the driving piece builds, fueled by fiery solos from trumpeter Andy Gravish and tenorist Paul Carlon. The Roberta Flack hit, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” usually given a lush, romantic treatment, has a particularly dark arrangement by Schapiro brightened only by Eddie Allen’s trumpet.
On this project Schapiro’s writing has the ensemble engaging in a bit of counterpoint. Altoist Rob Wilkerson and trombonist Nick Grinder make powerful statements and then trade off with their own counterpoint during the dense and unpredictable arrangement. A futuristic dirge, “Hallelujah,” includes highly expressive solos from Carlon’s tenor and guitarist Sebastian Noelle. “A Bounce In Her Step” begins with ensemble parts quickly transitioning to a bass solo, giving an indication how unpredictable Schapiro’s material is. The tune is filled with rhythmic bebop phrases while being harmonically advanced; trombonist Walter Harris and altoist Rob Wilkerson are the solo stars. “House Money” concludes the memorable set with a deep second-line New Orleans groove from drummer Jon Wikan, and the rambunctious trombone of Alex Jeun.
There is much more detail on each piece in the liners written by trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. This little section is especially striking – “I found this run of words in my rhyming dictionary to help me with my Ingrid-out-of-water search for the ultimate in verbal summations for Jon and his band of musical Heroines and Heros. In a Seussian way, here goes…Dinging, flinging, pinging, ringing, bringing, springing, stringing, singing, tinging, winging, thinging, zinging, twisting (I added that) and swinging.”
So, there you have it – Schapiro and his ensemble pushing the limits of big band expression.
More on Jon Schapiro
Jon Schapiro is an original and daring composer-arranger. He graduated from Brown University, earned a Master’s from the Manhattan School of Music, and studied at NYU with Jim McNeely and Dinu Ghezzo. Schapiro is a professor at Yeshiva University and was a member of the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop. In 2012 he formed Schapiro17 as a vehicle for his innovative writing and to showcase some of New York’s top musicians. Their recording of New Shoes: Kind of Blue at 60, along with the band’s pre-pandemic appearances in New York clubs (including ShapeShifter), gave Schapiro17 quite a bit of attention. Now with the release of Human Qualities, Schapiro17 continues to ascend the ranks as one of the top modern jazz big bands on the scene today.
Musicians: trumpets: Bryan Davis, Andy Gravish, Eddie Allen, Noyes Bartholomew; trombones: Alex Jeun, Deborah Weisz, Nick Grinder, Walter Harris; saxophones: Rob Wilkerson, Candace DeBartolo, Paul Carlon, Rob Middleton, Matt Hong; piano: Roberta Piket; guitar: Sebastian Noelle; bass: Evan Gregor; drums: Jon Wikan
- Jim Hynes
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