Human Qualities is the follow-up to the 2020 debut, New Shoes: Kind of Blue at 60.
This recording brings back the 17 members of the progressive New York big band. Unlike New Shoes, which offers a thematic focus on Kind of Blue, Human Qualities features seven Jon Schapiro originals and one arrangement – featuring a powerhouse rhythm section, fiercely swinging ensembles, and sterling solo work.
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
DOWNBEAT says: “…ensemble is powered by a first-rate rhythm section…Schapiro’s writing is what really does the trick, fleshing out his ideas through lean, deftly coloristic ensemble passages that manage to convey small-band dynamics with a big-band toolkit…”
The set opens with “Count Me Out”, with roots dug deep into Kansas City, and a destination far from Basie. Rob Middleton, Deborah Weisz, and Roberta Piket handle the solos, maintaining the high energy level. “Tango” is a feature for baritonist Matt Hong, whose work is lyrical and logical. “Hmmm” is close to a shuffle, allowing the band to blow off steam. Andy Gravish and Paul Carlon, on trumpet and tenor respectively, feed off of and contribute to the band’s drive. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, a Schapiro arrangement, features Eddie Allen, whose bright, lyrical trumpet offsets the darker qualities of the orchestration.
The title track opens as an exercise in counterpoint before giving way to a sharp and crisp alto solo from Rob Wilkerson. Nick Grinder’s subsequent trombone solo is dark and cerebral. Roberta Piket joins the return to a contrapuntal mentality, both dynamic and linear, cutting across the orchestration. “Hallelujah,” a dirge, is abstract and muted. Edgy tenor and guitar work from Carlon and Sebastian Noelle make the track a highlight for listeners who like tension in their music. Drummer Jon Wikan has space to add his own idiosyncratic rhythmic layer. “A Bounce in Her Step” is best categorized as bebop. With no clear tonal center early in the chart, listeners hear the chart’s more bebop-oriented rhythms. Walter Harris and Rob Wilkerson take full advantage of the solo space. Bouncy and funky, “House Money” is a showcase for the Alex Jeun’s forceful and kinetic trombone.