Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Orrin Evans Makes a Party Record for Smart People

Pianist Orrin Evans has been on some kind of a roll lately, as a solo artist, in his mighty Captain Black Big Band,and also the impossibly eclectic, brilliant trio Tarbaby with Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits. His latest album, Freedom, which has been out about a month on Posi-Tone, was recorded about a year ago (right before the Tarbaby record came out), capturing Evans in slightly more relaxed mode. Emphasis on “slightly” – there’s still plenty of his trademark restless intensity here. But it’s also a party record, mostly a trio session with Dwayne Burno on bass and Byron Landham (from Evans’ original 90s trio) on drums, with Anwar Marshall from the big band taking over behind the kit on three tracks, plus tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna guesting on a couple more. Thematically, it’s a tribute to Evans’ friends and mentors – which makes a lot of sense when you hear it.

Charles Fambrough’s One for Honor kicks it off, brisky, catchy, almost scurrying. Essentially, it’s a cleverly ornamented two-chord modal theme, Evans working a lively call-and-response between contrasting two-bar pairs. A simple, memorable blues, Gray’s Ferry, by Burno provides a canvas for soulful McKenna inflections and a typically cerebral Evans solo, with the drums bringing the party atmosphere up. The uninhibited joy of Evans firing off ripples following a particularly inspiring sax motif, and the spirited crash of Landham’s cymbals, is just plain irresistible. The third track, Shades of Green, begins with a gorgeous series of turnaround that defiantly refuse to resolve, Landham’s rumble beneath Evans’ judicious, ringing chords evoking a genuine majesty. That’s a signature style for Evans, one he evokes even more potently on the album’s seventh cut, Oasis, which shifts from samba-inflected soul to rippling restlessness to an electrifying modal intensity, which sadly fades out too soon – it would be awfully nice to see what destination this crew might have been able to find for it.

Evans’ sole original here, Dita, is an expansive, slow ballad with understated grandeur and an apt Burno solo. Hodge Podge features a cool piano/drum interchange over a devious 12/8 beat, and then a heated Marshall solo spot where he still manages to keep the rhythm absolutely front and center. They also romp through Time After Time, with a clever bass-and-drum conversation, give Duane Eubanks’ As Is a bright swing treatment and close with Herbie Hancock’s Just Enough, Evans and the rest of the band letting its quiet gravitas speak for itself. If melodic jazz is your thing and you don’t know this guy, you’re missing out.

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August 15, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tarbaby Puts an End to Fear

Intense, enigmatic, often very funny, Tarbaby’s debut album The End of Fear is a jazz power trio of sorts featuring Orrin Evans on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums along with some welcome guests: JD Allen on tenor, Oliver Lake on alto and Nicholas Payton on trumpet. Darkly melodic, fearlessly spontaneous (hence the title) and bristling with combustible energy, time may judge this a classic. Why? After all, there’ve been a ton of energetic jazz albums this year. Answer: clarity of vision. The group latch onto these compositions, dig deep and find the gems inside, tribute as much to the quality of the songs here as much as the playing. Evans has a well-deserved reputation as a powerhouse player, but his most powerful moments here are in the quietest, gentlest passages. Revis, who’s responsible for some of the best pieces here, is subtle to the extreme, a rare bassist who doesn’t waste a note. Waits adds rare elements of musicality and surprise to everything he touches, and he’s in typical form here. Each of the horn players brings his signature as well: Allen’s terse purism, Lake’s practically iconoclastic flights and Payton’s irrepressibility.

The tracks alternate between miniatures and more expansive works, kicking off with a vignette that pits murky, circular Evans stomp versus Lake’s buoyant explorations. The sardonically titled Brews is the blues after too many drinks – although the sauce hasn’t affected anyone other than the staggering rhythm section. Evans drifts between eloquence and chaos, Revis plays the voice of reason out for a long walk, and then it ends cold. Heads, followed later by Tails, are the freest moments here, brief but potent contrasts between background rumble and Payton going wild shooting targets.

Their best songs are the darkest ones. Evans’ showstopper is Jena 6, a brooding commentary on the recent tragic events in Arkansas that packs a wallop in the darkness, glittering obsidian rivulets growing to a harrowing, gospel-inflected intensity. Hesitation, a long mini-suite of sorts by Waits, grows from funereal, through a bitter chromatic dirge that explodes in freedom and reconfigures with similarly gospel-fueled triumph. Fats Waller’s Lonesome Me is reinvented brilliantly as an austere ballad featuring some warily beautiful, minimalist Allen phrasing. By contrast, the version of Andrew Hill’s Tough Love here is a rapidfire display of deft handoffs and team riffage.

There’s also great humor here. Unity, by Sam Rivers shifts suddenly from the cohesion suggested by the title to a wild battle for the ball between Lake and Payton, Evans a bit later on discovering the song’s inner latin soul while Waits stomps through it in his swim fins. November ’80, by Lake, must have been a hell of a time, Evans reaching to calm things down a bit before handing it over to Revis who cleverly ratchets it up again. And a cover of the Bad Brains’ Sailin’ On establishes these guys as a solid hardcore band, Evans’ furious lefthand maintaining the roar in place of the guitar – and contributing a seriously amusing ending. They close with a rapturous, slowly congealing, starlit version of Paul Motian’s Abacus. Check back here sometime and see where it ends up on our list of the best albums of 2010.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment