The cleverly titled Secular Breathing is the third recording by composer/arranger Jim Knapp's Seattle-area orchestra and arguably the best to date, thanks to Knapp's handsome and provocative charts, the presence of guest trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and the return of former JKO drummer Jon Wikan, who now lives in New York City. Knapp's richly textured arrangements lend muscle to the ensemble, making it seem larger and more robust than its actual thirteen pieces would lead one to imagine. But lyricism and timbre are the trump cards in Knapp's deck, and he uses them with notable proficiency and awareness, keeping the music accessible while making sure that the energy level remains high no matter what the mood or tempo.
Jensen, sitting in for another splendid trumpeter, Jay Thomas, who was heard on the orchestra's previous recording, Things for Now, frames eloquent solos on Knap's "Kennewick, Man," "Combos in Indiana" and "Home," while Wikan shows that he's among the best when it comes to kicking a band. Tenor Rob Davis shares blowing space on the punchy "Kennewick," tenor Saul Cline, baritone Greg Metcalf and pianist John Hansen on the cha cha/shuffle "Combos," bassist Phil Sparks on the gentle blues "Home."
Knapp wrote everything else except Alec Wilder's "Moon and Sand" and Kurt Weill's "Nanna's Lied," both of which he arranged. Sparks, trombonist Jeff Hay and alto Mark Taylor step up as soloists on the hauntingly lovely "Sand," Sparks and Hansen on the somber yet enticing tango "Nanna's Lied."
For old-fashioned no-holds-barred swinging Knapp offers "G Baby" (solos by Hay, tenor Rob Davis), "Buddha Bang" (Wikan, Davis, Hansen) and the perky title tune (Hansen, Sparks and the "three tenors," Taylor, Cline and Davis). The pensive "Kreuzberg Soliloquy" adds shifting tempos to shapely solos by Taylor (soprano) and Hansen, leading to the rhythmically abundant finale, "Laura Mae's Getaway."
"Secular" or otherwise, Knapp and his colleagues can breathe easily; they've sculpted another blue-chip album of persuasive big-band jazz.