Freedom contains a curious patchwork of styles—none of them, ironically, free. Pianist Orrin Evans and his trio (Dwayne Burno on bass, Byron Landham or Anwar Marshall on drums), plus tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna on two songs, tackle various aspects of mainstream jazz. For example, the complex postbop “One for Honor” precedes the riffy, Golson-esque “Gray’s Ferry,” which in turn leads to the darkly modal “Shades of Green.” The programming can be jarring. Nevertheless, each tune is beautifully executed, with great ensemble chemistry and a keen ear for nuance.
If they’re straight-ahead pieces, though, Evans isn’t content to leave them that way. Often these are subtle tweaks, like the dissonant descending vamp in his solo on “Time After Time” or the juxtaposition of European keyboard mannerisms against interlocking African rhythms (featuring both drummers) on “Oasis.” Sometimes it’s more overt; on “Time,” Evans discovers a cross-rhythmic syncopation that he likes enough to reuse on “Hodge Podge” and “As Is.” But he never loses sight of his bandmates, or the mood: While Burno and Marshall double down on the rhythmic tension of “Hodge Podge,” Evans creates abstractions that spiral like an ever-tightening spring, and then emits quick flares of release before pressing even further in his next phrase. It’s a masterstroke of precision and interplay.
Burno and the drummers are crucial to the music’s success—especially Burno, whose bass has a zesty wood sound that he manipulates with joy. McKenna is weaker, playing stock hard-bop lines (on what are, not coincidentally, the basic hard-bop tunes); still, he has chops and a beefy presence. If Freedom’s overall aesthetic is wobbly, its quality is not.