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Orrin Evans: Listen To The Band

With his latest album the superb pianist Orrin Evans has eschewed the tightly programmed approach he’s employed in putting together his previous recordings on Criss Cross in favor of a bandstand-oriented strategy. In his liner notes he emphasizes the word “band” in the album’s title: “There is little need for spoken conversation with them.” While this concept might spell “blowing session” in lesser hands, Evans and his excellent working group-saxophonists Sam Newsome and Ralph Bowen, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Nasheet Waits-transform it into a dazzling exposition on group intuition.

The album’s melodically ambiguous take on “I Want to Be Happy” illustrates the point well: the sextet just began playing in the studio and gradually found itself inside the standard. While the other seven tracks may be less steeped in serendipity, they’re nearly all as wide open. On “Diva Black,” a Eubanks tune energized by the drummer’s funky intro, the rhythm section plays with time like taffy, just as the hornmen play havoc with harmony. In particular, Newsome flies high into his soprano sax’s upper register, masterfully toying with harmonics to produce a piercing, clarinetlike tone on tracks like “I Want to Be Happy” and “Dorm Life.”

If there’s a drawback to the proceedings it’s that Evans takes himself out of the spotlight, which makes his contemplative, tender solo reading of “There Is a Quiet Place” that much more stunning. But the album’s bristling energy and interactive spark makes this a minor quibble; as Evans becomes more adventurous his work just seems to get better and better.

Originally Published