About this Recording


The band:

Doug Yates - alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet

Jay Brandford - alto saxophone, clarinet

Donny McCaslin - tenor saxophone

Seamus Blake - tenor saxophone

Andy Laster - barytone saxophone, clarinet

Dave Ballou - trumpet, flugelhorn

John Carlson - trumpet, flugelhorn

Andy Gravish - trumpet, flugelhorn

Cuong Vu - trumpet, flugelhorn

John Roseman - trombone

Curtis Hasselbring - trombone

Dave Taylor - bass trombone

Chris Creswell - bass trombone on Uprising only

Uri Caine - piano

John Medeski - Hammond B-3, Clavinet, Wurlitzer electric piano

Brad Shepik - guitar

Drew Gress - bass

Jamey Haddad - drums, percussion

Dane Richeson - drums, percussion

Created in 1989, the Ken Schaphorst Big Band has been pushing the boundaries of large ensemble jazz for almost a decade now. Formed in Boston, the group features many of today's most notable young performers, including John Medeski, Uri Caine, Brad Shepik, Drew Gress, Donny McCaslin and Seamus Blake. Schaphorst's compositions and arrangements draw on the traditions of big band jazz while at the same time opening up new possibilities through the influence of classical and world musics.

The 18-piece Ken Schaphorst Big Band has been hailed by the Boston Phoenix as "the most interesting and contemporary large ensemble to come out of Boston in recent years". An earlier album by The Ken Schaphorst Big Band was nominated for a Boston Music Award in the category "Outstanding Jazz Album".

The band's latest recording is Purple on Naxos Jazz. Bob Blumenthal calls the result "a most contemporary orchestral jazz fable, more fabulous in its way than a momentary revival of those long-lost days when bandleaders honed their music by taking their ensembles on the road."

Ken Schaphorst calls the creation of this album "a dream realized." It represents a most contemporary orchestral jazz fable, more fabulous in its way than a momentary revival of those long-lost days when bandleaders honed their music by taking their ensembles on the road. Here, in effect, Schaphorst has taken himself on the road, only to find his former collaborators awaiting his latest compositions with what he reports is "the same sense of fun and discovery."

Since 1991, Schaphorst has directed the Jazz Studies programme at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin; but for much of the previous decade he was studying and writing in the Boston area. Together with several like-minded friends, he founded the Jazz Composers Alliance in 1985, an organization that remains actively dedicated to the performance of new orchestral music by its evolving membership and visiting guests. Flux, the group's single album to date, is indicative of its efforts, with a composition by each of five resident composers, Sam Rivers and the late Julius Hemphill. There was more music in Schaphorst than could be programmed in such egalitarian efforts, though, so he also formed his own big band, which was documented on the CDs Making Lunch and After Blue before Schaphorst headed West.

Teaching and creating in the music-rich Lawrence environment has provided various and constant challenges to Schaphorst. At the same time, he has sustained his Boston ties through various live performances and two more recording projects: When the Moon Jumps, where the ensemble was reduced to 10 pieces, and Over the Rainbow, Schaphorst's arrangements of Harold Arlen's music as realized by such units of old friends as Medeski Martin & Wood and the Either/Orchestra. The present recording is Schaphorst's first with a big band in seven years, however, and it finds the sections staffed by nine musicians heard on his earliest recordings and several others with later Boston connections. "I think we fit somewhere in the middle, between the road-tested bands and the thrown-together-at-the-last-minute groups," he suggests. "The key is that when all the musicians sit down to play, they are committed to making the best music they are capable of making".

Shared knowledge and trust informs each of the nine compositions. "I certainly write with specific soloists in mind," Schaphorst explains. On Uprising, for example, I wrote with an idea of how Donny McCaslin might improvise on the different sections, how he might embellish the melody. In that sense, I compose around individuals as Ellington did; but that doesn't mean the soloists are robots, merely going through the motions. Unpredictability is part of what I look for in a player, and the soloists in this group are constantly surprising me".

A similar openness informs Schaphorst's approach to ensemble-writing, which takes on unique colours from track to track and reflects one of the most intimate contemporary uses of the jazz orchestra. "I have a sense of how the ensemble writing will come together", he admits, "but it is based on knowing that these players are comfortable enough to embellish my written parts. I spread the leads around in each section, and I don't encourage an immaculate approach to the ensemble playing; I want something more loose-limbed and human.

I think the soloist, and the whole band, should have a sense of responsibility for the success or failure of the music. If you don't approach jazz writing as a collaborative art, you're lost. That shared responsibility makes it work".

"And I always look for something more than the traditional accompanying approach from the rhythm section. Composers and arrangers have lost many opportunities by not involving the rhythm section in a more integral way letting them play the melody, letting the horns comp for them". This leads Schaphorst to utilize both long-time associate John Medeski and more recent collaborator Uri Caine on two keyboards, and to pair drummers/percussionists Jamey Haddad and Lawrence associate Dane Richeson (on all tracks except Blues Almighty, where Richeson is alone, and Bats, with Haddad by himself).

Both Schaphorst and the band apply his concepts in a program of fresh moods and diverse personalities. Some compositions, like Blues Almighty and Bounce, are singular takes on familiar feelings; others like Bats and Purple evolved from Schaphorst's own improvisations. The well-titled Subterranean, originally written for bassist Hans Sturm, allows bass trombonist Dave Taylor and bass clarinettist Doug Yates to lead an investigation of the lower sound stratum, while Yates' clarinet gives discrete yet similarly singular voice to With You, Then Without, which Schaphorst calls "One of the more personal statements. I tried to express all of the conflicting feelings one has when torn between being with or without a person".

From Donny McCaslin's heroic eloquence on Uprising to the Jay Brandford solo that concludes Bounce, every member of the orchestra provides a cogent and daring interpretive slant. Schaphorst refers to Caine and Medeski as "style-blind players, who respond appropriately to any new musical challenge, while at the same time always remaining true to themselves," and the accolade could be shared by the rest of the cast. "I just feel sorry that Andy Laster didn't solo, and that the piece I wrote for Cuong Vu didn't get recorded", Schaphorst adds. "Each member of the group has such a strong, relevant voice. I had hoped to feature everyone, and I came close".

We can all take solace in the knowledge that there is more music to come from Schaphorst, and no doubt further opportunities for his East Coast partners to reassemble. He is constantly putting new material together for a faculty group at Lawrence that rehearses once a week, and has produced such other recent works as a classical piece for Dave Taylor and a wind ensemble ("It was great to write for a virtuoso who also understands the blues") and music that merged a jazz ensemble with the Afro-Cuban percussion group Talking Drums. "Sam Rivers told me that he writes a tune every day," Schaphorst reports, "and I've always admired that approach". Yet Schaphorst never forgets his priorities. "The focus remains on jazz", he states with assurance. "I will be taking my first sabbatical in the winter of 1999, and I'm thinking of getting the band together then. Coming back to these musicians, and creating new music together with them continues to be an incredibly satisfying experience". Listen, and you, too, will know satisfaction.

Bob Blumenthal

Ken Schaphorst is a composer, performer, and educator living in Appleton, Wisconsin where he has been directing the jazz studies program at Lawrence University since 1991. Born in Abington, Pennsylvania in 1960, Schaphorst has studied at Swarthmore College, New England Conservatory and Boston University, where he received the Doctor of Musical Arts in 1990. His composition teachers have included Thomas Oboe Lee, Gerald Levinson, William Thomas McKinley, and Bernard Rands. Schaphorst has been awarded Composition Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988 and 1991, the Wisconsin Arts Board in 1997, Meet the Composer Grants in 1987 and 1997, and was a Music Composition Finalist in the Massachusetts Fellowship Program in 1986. Schaphorst is also a founding member of the Jazz Composers Alliance, a non-profit corporation dedicated to the promotion of new music in the jazz idiom. Ken has worked alongside such luminaries as Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Davis, Julius Hemphill, Dave Holland, Bob Moses, Sam Rivers and Henry Threadgill.

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