By J.D. Considine | Published April 2020
For most listeners, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue is less an album than an icon, the sort of work so indisputably great that genuflection is the only conceivable response. But for many jazz musicians, Kind Of Blue is closer to scripture, in the sense that it has been a source of guidance and inspiration almost from the start.
Composer/arranger Jon Schapiro falls into the latter category, and New Shoes: Kind Of Blue At 60 is a sort of creative commentary on that text, a sermon on five songs, if you will. In addition to offering big-band versions of Kind Of Blue’s material, he also has six KoB-inspired pieces of his own, an itchily propulsive cycle he calls “Boiled Funk,” the title being an anagram of “Kind Of Blue.” There’s also a seventh track, “Foiled Bunk,” in which pianist Roberta Piket offers a virtuosic, two-handed deconstruction of Schapiro’s “Boiled Funk” motifs.
If all that sounds a tad Talmudic, don’t worry—Schapiro understands the centrality of the blues to Kind Of Blue, and never lets the music get arcane or cerebral. It helps that his ensemble is powered by a first-rate rhythm section, particularly Piket and Jon Wikan, who is rapidly becoming one of the most astutely swinging big band drummers in jazz today. But 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. Gil Evans is an obvious touchstone here, particularly in the way Schapiro uses high-note trumpet, but there’s also a bit of George Russell in the way he uses modal harmony to maintain a sense of blues in even the densest ensemble passages.
Purists might bristle at some of the liberties taken here—for instance, the way Schapiro’s arrangement of “So What” playfully morphs the bass-line melody. But this isn’t meant for fundamentalists. Instead, by showing that creative work still can be built off of Miles’ model, Schapiro and company pay the best possible tribute: They make Kind Of Blue kind of new.