The musicians in The Greg Hopkins 16 Piece Jazz Orchestra may not be household names, but they are well traveled professionals who have experience playing with many of the legends of jazz. The resume of trumpeter and principle composer Hopkins includes a stint as soloist and arranger for the Buddy Rich Band during the 1970s, while guitarist Mick Goodrick has appeared on record both as a leader and behind such luminaries as Steve Swallow and Charlie Haden, and most of the other members of the group have similarly impeccable credentials; Hopkins, Goodrick and several other musicians in this project are faculty members of the Berklee School of Music.
So, given all that, the band sounds as professional and precise as you would imagine. The group is tight, but not overly so. They remain supple throughout the proceedings. The title track, for instance, alternates between a big band feel on the theme and a smaller combo feel where most of the group lays out during the solos by alto saxophonist Bruce Nifong and Goodrick. Hopkins, for his part, only takes a couple of solos, but he makes them count. His solo on his composition Crackdown is a particular standout.
Goodrick is the scene-stealer of the group. His guitar comes in following the bass on the opening cut Stretchin' and, although doing little more than comping, somehow manages to arrest your attention before the rest of the group comes in, though composer and guest pianist James Williams has no trouble in engaging the listener's ears in his direction. Goodrick trades some interesting, flamenco-tinged lines with pianist Chris Neville on Contra Part 2 and continues to shine throughout the entire album.
Hopkins and the members of his group come to us having played with and learned from such greats as Rich, Haden, Art Blakey, Bill Evans, Stan Getz and many others. The music on this album is informed by these and other musical experiences, but the music is uniquely that of Hopkins and his band. Together they draw from several jazz traditions to produce a very modern sounding big band recording.