Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Orrin Evans’ New Trio Album Is One of the Year’s Best

Pianist Orrin Evans has been on a creative rampage lately. Recorded at a single marathon session at a Brooklyn studio this past February, his latest album Flip the Script, a trio project with Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards behind the kit, does exactly that. It’s his most straightforward album under his own name (to distinguish his small-group work from his role as conductor/pianist with his mighty jazz orchestra the Captain Black Big Band.) To steal a phrase from the JD Allen fakebook (a guy Evans has worked with, memorably), this is jukebox jazz: roughly four-minute, terse, wickedly tuneful, relentlessly intense compositions. For lack of a better word, this is deep music, full of irony and gravitas but also wit. Evans’ work has always been cerebral: to say whether or not this is his most emotionally impactful recording depends on how much Captain Black makes you sweat.

Question, by bassist Eric Revis, opens the album with a relentless unease that will pervade much of what’s to come, the rhythm section walking furiously against an evil music-box riff from the piano: the way Evans shadows Wolfe as the bassist pulls away from the center and then returns is one of the album’s many high points and will have you reaching for the repeat button. The first Evans composition here, Clean House, works gravely bluesy modalities into a dark Philly soul melody: the trio’s simple, direct rhythmic rhythmic insistence on the third verse is a clinic in hard-hitting teamwork. With its apprehensive chromatics, the title track has echoes of Frank Carlberg, Edwards coloring it with counterintuitive accents and the occasional marauding, machinegunning phrase as much as he propels it, something he does throughout the album: fans of Elvin Jones or Rudy Royston will eat this up. The quietly imploring, spaciously Shostakovian minimalism of When makes quite a contrast: Evans’ coldly surreal, starlit moonscape could be Satoko Fujii.

A phantasmagorical blues, Big Small balances slyness against gravitas, Wolfe turning in a potently minimalist solo as he builds to quietly boomy chords against the drums, Evans offering hope of a resolution but then retracts it as the mysterioso ambience returns. The piano’s relentless interpolations build to an artful clave rumble by Edwards and then a false ending on a bracingly chromatic reinvention of Luther Vandross’ A Brand New Day, while TC’s Blues, a diptych, morphs from loungey swing to expansive, allusively shadowy modalities that give Edwards a platform to whirl and rumble on. They follow that with an unexpectedly brooding take on Someday My Prince Will Come, then go back to the originals with The Answer, a clever, considerably calmer response to the Revis tune

The album ends with The Sound of Philadelphia, Evans’ hometown. But this isn’t happy tourists gathered around a bicentennial Liberty Bell: it’s a vacant industrial lot in north Philly next to a diner that’s been closed for years and a house that may or may not have people in it. Evans strips Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s jovial Philly soul tune to the bone, slows it down, takes every bit of bounce out and adds a menacing turnaround. It’s a quietly crushing way to bring this powerful creation to a close. Count this among the half-dozen best jazz albums to come over the transom so far this year, another major contribution from the Posi-Tone label.

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July 6, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

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

Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band Is Everything You’d Expect

In some ways, what Pink Floyd, Nektar, Supertramp and all the rest of the orchestrated rock bands were to the “classic rock” era, new big band jazz is to the decade of the teens. It’s where you get your epic grandeur fix. Towering, intense angst; full-blown exhilaration. There’s a lot more of the latter than the former on pianist Orrin Evans’ brand-new Captain Black Big Band album, but there’s still gravitas and intensity as you would expect from him. Like the Mingus repertory bands, Evans employs a rotating cast for this group, in this case an A-list mostly from New York and Philadelphia, in a live concert recording. Also like Mingus, the compositions blend an impatient urban bustle with an irrepressible joie de vivre. The compositions are pretty oldschool, closer to Mingus or Ellington than, say, than Jim McNeely.

The album gets started on a trad note with Art of War, a brisk bluesy swing tune by drummer Ralph Peterson. Rob Landham’s alto solo goes squalling quickly and spirals out neatly with a blaze as the brass rises – it’s sort of a warmup for what’s to come.Here’s the Captain, by bassist Gianluca Renzi opens with Evans’ murky distant piano grandeur – it’s a Cuban son montuno groove led by the trombone, an incisively simmering Victor North tenor solo followed by Evans who stays on course with a couple of cloudbursts thrown in for good measure. Inheritance, by bass clarinetist and big band leader Todd Marcus is swinging and exuberant with New Orleans tinges and a modified Diddleybeat. The first of Evans’ compositions, Big Jimmy is a soaring swing number with some deftly concealed rhythmic trickiness, trumpeter Walter White faking a start and then moving it up to some blissed-out glissandos, followed by tenor player Ralph Bowen who jumps in spinning out wild spirals – it’s adrenalizing to the extreme.

Buoyantly memorable in a late 50s Miles kind of way, Captain Black maxes out a long, fiery ensemble passage into solos by pianist Jim Holton (Evans has moved to the podium to conduct), Bowen shifting from shuffle to sustain followed by trombonist Stafford Hunter shadowboxing with the band. They save the best for last with the final two tunes. Easy Now is absolutely gorgeous, a study in dark/light contrasts with an ominous, dramatic low brass-driven intro lit up by drummer Anwar Marshall’s blazing cymbals. Trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and then baritone saxophonist Mark Allen go from pensive to assured and playful over Evans’ wary, wounded gospel-tinged lines; it winds up on a roaring, powerful note. The album concludes with the rich sepia tones of Jena 6, a track that also appears on Evans’ superb Tarbaby album from last year, referencing the Arkansas students persecuted in the wake of a 2007 attack by white racists. A lyrical Neil Podgurski piano intro begins the harrowing narrative with an ominous series of slow, portentous gospel-tinged crescendos. As Jaleel Shaw’s alto moves from genial swing to unhinged cadenzas and anguished overtones while the orchestra cooks behind him and then leaves him out to wail all alone, the effect is viscerally stunning. Count this among the most richly satisfying albums of 2010 so far. Evans will be interviewed on NPR’s A Blog Supreme this Friday the 25th; the album is just out on Posi-Tone.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments