Mike Kaplan Nonet

How's That?

Semi-Sweet Records: SM-12

Saxes: Bob Hanlon, alto sax and clarinet; Mike Kaplan, tenor sax and arranger; Ed Xiques, baritone and soprano sax; Trumpets: Rob Henke, Bill Mobley; Trombones: Ben Williams (tracks 1,2,4,6,9) Pete McGuinness (tracks 3,5,7,8) Rhtyhm: Matt King, piano; Doug Weiss, bass; Pete MacDonald, drums; Rick Langmaack, guitar - 1,3,6,8

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.

Consisting of great soloists (notably Ed Xiques who turns in exceptional solo statements throughout, particularly on baritone sax) the band seems to be at its' best when left to romp through the more up-tempo and athletic pieces. Wisely, Kaplan has left ample room for such unbridled improvisational glee.

Kaplan's writing bows toward the opulent, favoring dense ensemble punches and teeth-grinding cacophony at times. With the exception of "For C.M." (a ten minute tour de ego whose constant grating accelerandos and style changes would benefit from some judicious editing and a more timely d'nouement) his choices are very good and do much to propel the group forward. There are times, however, when I wished the players were given more time to explore a mood or setting before being whisked off to another vantage point.

It's refreshing to hear ensembles like this given the care and loving attention that Kaplan has bestowed on his group. How's That? is an obvious labor of love for the medium and its singular qualities. It will reward any listener who dons a headset or cranks a speaker.

by Stan Bann

New Sounds - December 2003/January 2004 CD Reviews