Big band leader Jon Schapiro apparently is not the type to rest too easily on his laurels. Just over a year after releasing his group Schapiro 17’s debut album New Shoes: Kind of Blue at 60, he and his fellow musicians returned this month with their sophomore album, Human Qualities. The eight-song record is not for those with short attention spans. Those songs total approximately 70 minutes, with the shortest running five minutes, 19 seconds and the longest 11 minutes, 37 seconds. Now, those listeners who can and will remain engaged will find it an enjoyable offering. That is due in no small part to those featured arrangements. They will be discussed shortly. Staying on the matter of the record’s songs, their sequencing adds its own share of appeal. The record’s ompanion booklet rounds out its most important elements and will be discussed later, too. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Human Qualities. All things considered, they make the record a presentation that will appeal widely to jazz fans.
Human Qualities, the latest album from Jon Schapiro’s Schapiro 17 big band project, is a work that will appeal widely to jazz fans. That is due in no small part to its featured arrangements. As already noted, the songs are not short by any means. Their run times range from more than five minutes at the shortest, to more than 11 minutes at the longest. Audiences who can overlook those run times and take in the songs will appreciate that the arrangements this time are primarily original works. Only one of the songs featured in this record, ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,’ is a cover. By comparison, the group’s debut album was just a collection of covers of songs from Miles Davis’ timeless record, Kind of Blue. So for the group to branch out this time and take that first real big step is admirable in itself.
Staying on the topic of the new compositions, they in themselves show even more why the arrangements are important to the record. The record’s opener, ‘Count Me Out’ (likely not ironically) lends itself stylistically to works from The Count Basie Orchestra. This is even discussed in the liner notes featured in the album’s booklet, which will itself be discussed later. The comparison is noticeable right off the top through Deborah Weisz’s performance on piano. The light, almost bouncy performance clearly exhibits that influence. There are some who would like to argue that the introduction of Rob Middleton’s performance on saxophone changes things, but a close listen to his work and comparison to various saxophone performances from Basie’s group actually boasts its own similarity. Much the same can be said of Walter Harris’ performance on trombone. It is just as similar to works from Basie and company as the saxophone solo. Now as the arrangement progresses, the style does change gradually, moving into more of a bop style work. Interestingly enough, as the arrangement reaches its finale, it does echo hints of its opening segment for a unique ABA format here.
Another example of what makes the record’s arrangements so important to this album’s presentation comes later in the album in the form of its title track. The 11 minute, nine second song is more of a modern jazz style work, complete with the subtle addition of a guitar line. The call-and-response approach of the horns early on here and general dynamic control (especially in Rob Wilkerson’s saxophone solo) adds so much more for listeners to appreciate. The whole thing comes to head in a moment of controlled chaos in the song’s final minutes that is just as engaging as the rest of the song. The whole is a complete contrast to the album’s opener, and another example of what makes the album’s arrangements so important to its presentation. ‘House Money’ is yet another example of the importance of the album’s musical arrangements.
‘House Money’ is as different from the other arrangements noted here as they are from the rest of the album’s arrangements. The gentle chromatic pattern in the song’s opening piano line gives the song a nice, bluesy vibe. That vibe, though, evolves as the bass line enters, giving way to thoughts of Charles Mingus. As the song continues to progress, the frenetic energy exuded by the collective even more echoes that free jazz approach of Mingus, Ornette Coleman and others of the era. The difference is that said stylistic approach is presented here through the use of a big band, making for even more interest. When this is considered along with the approaches taken to the other arrangements noted here and the rest of the record’s works, that whole shows great diversity in the arrangements, and just as much creativity. That creativity and diversity is certain to entertain and engage listeners throughout the record.
As much as the album’s arrangements do for its appeal, they are just a portion of what makes the album work as well as it does. The sequencing of the arrangements adds its own appeal to the album. As noted, the album starts on a high note, in terms of its energy, in ‘Count Me Out.’ ‘Tango,’ with its smooth, Latin-tined saxophone line and guitar, keeps the record moving fluidly even with the light melody. ‘Hmmm’ (yes, that is really the song’s title) picks things back up with its light swing and piano line. The horn flares added to the mix. The energy immediately pulls back from there with the group’s take on ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.’ The energy remains reserved from there until the album reaches ‘A Bounce In Her Step.’ Though, one could argue that the semi-avant-garde approach of ‘Hallelujah’ is actually where the change really starts to happen gradually. From that point on, the energy carries on through to the album’s finale, ‘House Money.’ Looking back through all of this, what becomes evident is that there is clear thought in the way of the album’s sequencing. It starts upbeat but then gradually pulls back before finally making its way back up again. What this does is ensure even more, listeners’ maintained engagement and entertainment. That is because the energies keep things from becoming one way for too long. This element plays along with the constant change in stylistic approaches to make the album that much more appeal. Keeping all of this in mind, the album’s arrangements and sequencing thereof plays directly into its appeal. It collectively is still just a part of what makes the album work. The companion booklet that comes with this record rounds out its most important elements.
The booklet that comes with Schapiro 17’s new album is important to address because of the information that it provides. Trumpet player Ingrid Jensen outlines the album, song-by-song. She outlines the most important aspects of song in her notes, creating a full, rich background for each work along the way. That background adds even more to the listening experience. Her explanations all come across as being so natural and simple, too. In other words, she makes sure that the most casual listeners will understand and appreciate the songs just as much as the most versed jazz aficionados. That assurance means that listeners will have that much to appreciate about this album, too. When it is considered along with the varied arrangements featured arrangements and their sequencing, that whole comes together to ensure the album’s appeal across the spectrum.
Schapiro 17’s sophomore album Human Qualities is a presentation that every lover of jazz will appreciate. That is due in part to its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements are for the most part, the group’s first original works, following a debut record that was just a collection of Miles Davis covers. They take listeners through a range of jazz styles, which itself will appeal to audiences, even being presented by the big band collective. The sequencing of the featured songs creates its own appeal, considering how it ensures the styles and energies change just enough from one song to the next. The album’s companion booklet puts the finishing touch to the record. The background that the liner notes provides for each song sets the stage for the songs and makes a great accompaniment as listeners go through the album. When it is considered along with the album’s content and sequencing, the whole ensures the album deserves its own spot among any critic’s list of the year’s best new jazz and blues albums. Human Qualities is available now. More information on Human Qualities is available along with Schapiro 17’s latest news at:
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