Moreover, on Next Set, Ketch shows a keen appreciation for the work of jazz trumpeters, as well as for the development of jazz, particularly from the bebop era to the present. In addition, Ketch appears to enjoy the purity of the trumpet’s sound, whether in jazz or any other genre (for he does work with symphony orchestras and chamber groups as well as performing at the International Trumpet Guild). Among the compositions associated with jazz trumpeters, Ketch mixes in "Danny Boy," which he introduces with the quiet dignity of a trumpet solo. Then, after the group’s improvisations over a re-harmonized arrangement, he soars to a penultimate crescendo ending on an unexpected crystal-clear high note and bringing the requisite emotional weight to the performance before the final poignant fade. "Over the Rainbow," which too can be overwrought in less professional versions, remains understated. Ketch improvises at a constant low volume, basically establishing his improvised second melody over the same changes with aplomb and, yes, finally beauty too.
Still, despite these quieter interludes, Ketch’s focus on Next Set remains his own interpretations of trumpeters’ compositions, a few trumpet-led jazz standards and a few of his own compositions. In particular, Ketch appreciates the lyricism of Tom Harrell, for he includes two of Harrell’s more infrequently heard pieces on Next Set: "The Water’s Edge" and "April Mist." Such interest is appropriate to Ketch’s own style, melodic, flowing and straightforward as he delves into a tune’s essence without gimmicky distractions. Indeed, Ketch, rather than interpreting Harrell, appears to pay tribute to him on "April Mist" with his own joyous, inspiring, smoothly connected choruses. In contrast, "The Water’s Edge," though three-four, evolves into a minor-key emotionalism bordering on Coltrane/Tyner-like spirituality. Coltrane’s "Lonnie’s Lament" appears on Next Set too, slow and vibrating ominously with pianist Stephen Anderson’s tremolos before moving into a solid swing with Tyner-like \\ deep bass notes anchoring broad chords. But Ketch includes homages to Blue Mitchell with "Blue Silver," cleverly attached to Horace Silver’s introductory "Peace," which serves as a showpiece for saxophonist Wally West’s solo. Kenny Dorham’s "Short Story" starts the album, Ketch soaring chorus by chorus into ever higher flights of improvisational intensity, evidence of Ketch’s influence by hard bop.
Ketch’s own compositions reinforce his immersion in the spirit of the pieces he chose for the album. That is, his "Dancin’ on the Rooster" is a mirror image of Frank Foster’s "Shiny Stockings" in feel and tempo, with Thomas Taylor using brushes on the drums, though Ketch mutes his trumpet on "Shiny Stockings" and play open on his own tune. Anderson’s "Moments of the Sublime" reflects the well-known hard bop pieces in other parts of the album, and Anderson’s own passionate, intricately executed solo recalls his work on "Lonnie’s Lament."
Certainly, not only Ketch, but also the other four members of his group perform at a high level that deserves much wider attention from the jazz listening public. Fans of jazz trumpeting no doubt will appreciate the work that Jim Ketch is doing for North Carolina students, and the work that he does on Next Set.