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Charles Evans and Neil Shah

Live At St. Stephen’s

Oscillating between complex formations and sparse arrangements, saxophonist Charles Evans and pianist Neil Shah display a symbiotic relationship that veers into the domains of the enigmatic, the abstract and the harmonically obscure on their latest recording Live At St. Stephen’s, recorded on January 23, 2009 at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wilkes-Barres, Pennsylvania. Bewitchingly eerie, the album layers lush bop-flamed saxophone wails dotted by disoriented piano keys moving subliminally along the base. The pairing manifests into an avant fare of braided notes and dark melodic sequences. The instruments resonate with a human voice that grieves in solitude and openly reflects about human frailties and the intrinsic need for consoling. Evans and Shah reach out to audiences with their music, sonically illustrating a place where the psyche takes over and directs the emotive surges in the saxophone and piano.

Logs of slow, churning saxophone wails are reefed by rattling piano keys in “On Tone Yet” depicting a subdued spirit, while the sonic jungle of “Junie” is landscaped in gorges of angular piano drips and a laggard ambling in the saxophone hoots which changes their patterns during the transitional phrases from the first part of the movement called “The Father” to the second phase called “The Friend.” The syrupy drool of the saxophone notes along “Mono Monk” echoes with a moaning that grieves inwardly, but then morphs into a romantic voicing through “An Die Fliegenden Fische.” Shah’s keys linger in the background making slits along Evans’ woozy saxophone notes which ferry a sleepy serenity across the rolling troughs and peaks of “Mother And Others.” Easing out of the sleepy trance, Evans infuses a strong will in “What Worked, What Didn’t, What Wouldn’t, What Would’ve” as he sustains his notes over several bars.

Evans and Shah’s ruminations are introspective and possess an avant-bent that delves into experimental pairings complimented by periods of abyss for subterranean inflections along the chord progressions. Their compositions have an off-kilter axis which manages to keep the saxophone standing upright and in the center. The pair trusses modern poly-chordal harmonies with classic bop and freestyle improvisation to make an album that demonstrates contemporary components drizzled with undertones of classic noir jazz. Live At St. Stephen’s from Hot Cup Records links the domains of the bizarre with the aesthetics of traditional jazz and kneads them to make an extraordinary creation.

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Susan Frances