The Mike Kaplan
Nonet offers engaging material presented in a precise yet free-spirited
manner with solos that draw the listener in, and
an underpinning, vibrant sense of swing. The vital nine-piece
ensemble, comprising Garden and Empire State stalwarts performs
a zesty mix of originals and covers, delivered with vigor and
Little big bands
have returned and are suddenly back in the limelight because of the devotion
to the format by a handful of bandleaders such as Jim Cifelli, Bill Kirchner,
Mike Kaplan, Rob McConnell and Russ Gershon.
Jazz, like any
language, is always changing and growing whilst not forgetting its roots,
and "How's That?" definitely fits into that category. In these
days of post modernism and experimental jazz, it is great to receive
an album that is immediately listenable. The fusion of big band and small
group sound makes for exciting listening that is quite refreshing. This
is further enhanced by the meticulous playing of the soloists involved
and "How's That?" is an album that will remain on rotation at our radio
The nonet is a unique creature living somewhere between the combo's
freedom of expression and the controlled written framework that is the
big band. In the right hands the ensemble achieves a litheness and dynamism
which doesn't exist wholly in either camp. Mike Kaplan's group has captured
that elusive balance and put some great sounds down on disk. "How's
That?" will reward any listener who dons a headset or cranks a speaker.
Kaplan’s success curve stays very strong. Big bands can be sketchy
undertakings nowadays, but this disc illustrates an example of resources
well spent. Kaplan’s band stays a course that yields a strong sampling
This is a nonet that sounds like a 17-piece big band, due obviously
to the arranging prowess of reedman-arranger, Mike Kaplan. The band
is both crisp & tight. Kudos too to Mike's original writing style.
The signature tune, ''How's That'' combines all the better elements
of jazz, blues, and funk, and holds up nicely. Mike instinctively
knows where he's going with his band and his music.
This is music with enough intuitiveness that it can change direction
and pace at a moments notice, and it does so in grand fashion. The solo
flights in the title track (and many of the other compositions) are the
summit of jazz soloing within the band concept.. All the rest of the musical
parts of the puzzle fall together effortlessly; this band does it with
Jazz seems to be mostly known for its big bands and its small combos,
but saxophonist/composer Mike Kaplan is trying to change all that. "How's
That?", presents a balancing point between the power of a big band
and the finesse of a smaller group. Outside of pianist Matt King's solos,
the rhythm section gracefully swings without calling attention to itself,
turning on a dime the way a small combo would, while the six-horn strong
front line brandishes the volume and sheer force of the bigger bands.
That's not to say each half can't do the other's job; on the cover of
Cedar Walton's "Firm Roots," the horns move easily from sedate
melody to forceful blasts, while drummer Pete MacDonald rides his cymbals
like a jockey on a fast horse and King moves the keyboard to the forefront.
On cuts like "Sudden Stranger," "For CM" and "Orange
Circle Funk," Kaplan and cohorts prove themselves as adept at penning
memorable jazz tunes as the masters. The Kaplan Nonet sticks strictly
to traditional jazz here, nothing that could be categorized as avant garde
or fusion, and does it damned well. "How's That?" When it comes
to horn-driven jazz, very nice.
Kaplan's arrangements are modern and delicate, but they retain a traditional
warmth, directness and sense of fun. The sonic completeness and the joy
this album offers are evidence that the long time that separates the
group's forming from its recording debut was worth the wait.
No questions to be asked about what the Mike Kaplan Nonet offers
on their first CD, you can hear it - Big Band sound, sometimes swinging,
sometimes passionate, completely in the tradition of successful orchestras.
In many passages you hear Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus saluting. "How's
That?" offers a great mix of originals by Mike Kaplan and arrangements.
The Nonet has with six horns an incredibly strong well ... horn section
at the front, which does them proud. The "little" orchestra
presents a great piece of Big Band music.