Jim Knapp Orchestra: Things for Now

The standard jazz education that often produces boring soloists can also make for excellent readers, tight ensemble players and good arrangers, all ingredients for solid big band fare. Knapp’s aggregation consists mostly of players new to me, but it is a very enjoyable group. The soloists are all at least effective, and one, saxophonist Mark Taylor, is quite impressive, occupying a stylistic middle ground somewhere between Lee Konitz and Lucky Thompson with real authority. But the emphasis is on the well-conceived and nicely executed charts. I was especially impressed with two originals, “Without Joe Henderson…” and “O Paler Mind,” as well as the delightful version of “Subconscious Lee” and the closing “Dancing in the Dark.” The arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy” is also excellent, nearly overcoming the fact that I just hate this tune. Singer Jay Thomas is heard on a couple of standards, and the arrangements here work better than the vocalist, who, like 95 percent of jazz singers, sounds overly mannered to my ear. I always wish they would just sing and stop thinking about it so hard. But the things I could quibble amount to maybe 15 percent of the total time, nowhere near enough to seriously detract from the considerable musical intelligence, good humor and solid swinging on this rewarding disc.