In April 2003, the Mike Kaplan Nonet released their debut release How’s That?. The cover of the CD explains the title that is for sure. How do several men calmly sit hundreds of feet above the city on one steel beam without a thought, read the paper, and eat? Such are the mysteries of life, particularly for us folks that would be terrified in that situation. The one thing that is not a mystery is the music of Kaplan and his talented band.
This is jazz music with enough astuteness and intuitiveness that it can change direction and pace at a moments notice, and it does so in grand fashion. Each composition has its own essence and character, sometimes subtle, at times more pronounced. The solo flights in the title track (and many of the other compositions) by Kaplan and his talented brass section are the summit of jazz soloing within the band concept. You will find there are many opportunities to hear every member of the band take off with their instruments as the bandleader gives them room to show their competence and adeptness.
The big band sound is the foundation from which this unit builds its musical house, while post bop and rhythm and blues have strong persuasions as well as contemporary influences that give way at the same time. It all comes together nicely, stretching out into a free form jazz amalgamation. With Kaplan leading the way with his tenor saxophone like all the great players before him, all the rest of the musical parts of the puzzle fall together effortlessly because of his smooth and uniform style with his instrument, not to mention his excellent leadership skills. In a style of music that defines the word improvisation not everyone that records can remain bright and inventive, this band does it with conviction.
There are two tour de force tracks, "Melody for Mom" and "For C.M.," both do a 7th inning stretch that last over ten minutes, highlighting the bands all around talent within the temperate and elegant boundaries of the jazz genre and sub-genres. Every other track in between is generous with time allotments offering the sophisticated and knowledgeable listener their open interpretations. This attitude is what allows the room to spare for each individual musician to spread his wings. The freedom found in this music is awe-inspiring. Although he has plenty of help from his fine band and they deserve a tip of the hat for such a superior effort, I think a lion’s share of the credit should go to the author of the compositions and leader Mr. Kaplan. This man has the staying power and talent to become a recognized name in jazz very soon. The only thing he needs now is for more people to discover his music.