Ken Schaphorst Big Band

When the Moon Jumps

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Composer/bandleader Schaphorst is known for his modern big-band charts, but for this recording the band is down to a tentet. Still loaded with great Boston-based ensemble players and soloists, the musicians read their leader's dense, clever, and twist-turning tunes to a tee. The group here includes John Medeski (piano), Billy Martin (drums), and Chris Wood (bass) join Either/Orchestra members John Dirac (electric guitar), Doug Yates (alto sax/bass clarinet), John Carlson (trumpet), and Curtis Hasselbring (trombone), alongside Donny McCaslin (tenor/soprano sax), Bob Levy (trumpet), and Dane Richeson (percussion). Of the seven pieces, two are revamped standards: the well-worn "All the Things You Are" has an African highlife beat derived with wonderfully conceived swelling and receding horns; and Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" is creepy crawly, with a reggae tinge leading to a swing bridge. Both are conceived quite well. The 20-minute, three part "Concerto for John Medeski" has the intro "Flowing" in a contrasting tick-tock/mouse-ran-up-the-clock feel superimposed on a waltz theme. Medeski's ruminating solo piano goes into oriental-waltz mode and back to blues, comprising part two, "Standing Still." The finale "Flying" sets the pianist on a hot dance free fall with a bop-parachute frenzy. Schaphorst's preference for juxtapositions is evidenced in the bubbling Afro-Cuban percussion of Martin and Richeson, which underscores the cool, under-the-surface horns of the title selection, setting up a lengthy and animated tenor sax solo by the always riveting McCaslin. Martin's twangy, popping bass intro leads to another waltz, while Hasselbring's growling trombone and Dirac's trippy rock grinds a one-note guitar solo for "Checkered Blues," a perfect title. Schaphorst claims to have lifted the idea of "Stomping Ground" from Louis Armstrong's version of "Let's Do It," but it sounds more like a late-'50s Sun Ra chart, with a floating pedal point bridge and the heftiest horn lines on the CD. The three-and-a-half minutes of "Perfect Machine," a distended 6/8 funk, offers chasing melodic invention. It seems Schaphorst is in his prime with this recording as a composer of truly original new music, and judging by his versions of the standards, he is not willing to sit still on that count either. Well worth the price of submission.

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