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Before & After Listening Session with Orrin Evans

Reharms before hip-hop

Mulgrew Miller
David Murray
Orrin Evans

Pianist Orrin Evans has been especially prolific in recent years. In 2013, he released the trio album …It Was Beauty (Criss Cross), his 20th recording as a leader or co-leader. Within that tally is the latest CD by the collective trio Tarbaby, Ballad of Sam Langford (Hipnotic), in which the core group of Evans, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits is joined by saxophonist Oliver Lake, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and Evans’ son Matthew on finger piano. Evans also produced singer JD Walter’s One Step Away (JWAL) and is preparing the second album by his Captain Black Big Band. A multitasker by necessity, Evans, 37, listened to these tracks while preparing a lunch of cream of celery soup in a Vitamix blender at his Philadelphia home.

1. Jason Moran

“Crepuscule With Nellie” (from Ten, Blue Note). Moran, piano; Tarus Mateen, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums. Recorded in 2010.

BEFORE: [after a minute] That’s the Bandwagon. It’s funny, I didn’t recognize Jason right away from his piano playing. I like what he’s doing with the melody, but it was more the sound of the recording. I really appreciate that about Jason: Sonically he’s figured out how to make his band sound the same every time. Whether it’s the same studio or the same engineer, they have a sound. Plus, I only need about two seconds of Nasheet. He’s one of the most consistent cats out there.

Are there particular challenges to interpreting Monk?

There are particular challenges to interpreting anybody, and it doesn’t need to be jazz. You have the interpretation police. I could see an older guy listening to this like, “That’s not ‘Crepuscule With Nellie.'” That’s where I like what Jason’s doing. I would love to keep the tunes alive, but I don’t want to get stuck playing them how they played them. It’s kind of hard with Monk, though.

2. Chris Potter

“Wayfinder” (from The Sirens, ECM). Potter, tenor saxophone; Craig Taborn, piano; David Virelles, prepared piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Eric Harland, drums. Recorded in 2011.

BEFORE: I’m waiting for the melody, but just in the intro the saxophonist has reminded me of a few people. There are a few saxophonists that pay homage to the Brecker sound. [during piano solo] Now this is throwing me off, having that melody happen and then this. I’m loving what the drummer’s doing, and I’m loving what the piano player’s doing. Is that Craig Taborn? So that’s Potter.

AFTER: I’m a big fan and good friend of Craig Taborn. He’s one of the few on the short list of people who are still taking the piano to a new space [while recognizing] the history of the instrument too-like Jason, like Ethan Iverson. So the list becomes smaller when you hear somebody play like that.

The band also includes David Virelles on prepared piano.

That’s another person on that list.

3. Mulgrew Miller Trio

“Waltz for Monk” (from Live at Yoshi’s, Volume One, MaxJazz). Miller, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Karriem Riggins, drums. Recorded in 2003.

BEFORE: I love this tune. It’s a Mulgrew tune. [sings along with melody] We don’t have writing like this piano-wise anymore-Mulgrew, George Cables, John Hicks, Ronnie Mathews. It’s a whole other type of piano trio that, honestly, it took me a second to get into. Cyrus [Chestnut] is one of the younger ones that had that same kind of sound. I’m waiting for something to be played so that I believe it’s Mulgrew. I’m 95-percent sure, but there’s something he hasn’t played yet. [Miller plays a quick flurry] There it is. Now I’m convinced. I know it’s Mulgrew-and that’s Karriem on drums, that snare pop right there. And Derrick Hodge, not Richie [Goods]. This is not one of my favorite Mulgrew records, honestly, but it doesn’t matter because Mulgrew was and still is one of my favorite people. I had a lot of good exchanges with him, and we did a duo concert here in Philly years ago.

What did you admire about Mulgrew?

His longevity. We could go down the list and say, “What ever happened to…?,” but Mulgrew left a legacy for all these piano players, and that’s what rings true to me. His was one of the most beautiful funerals I’ve ever been to. It was beautiful to see all these piano players in one room paying tribute to another piano player.

4. David Murray Big Band

“Lovejoy” (from David Murray Big Band Conducted by Lawrence “Butch” Morris, DIW/Columbia). Murray, tenor saxophone; Sonelius Smith, piano; Morris, conductor. Recorded in 1991.

BEFORE: I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not a big fan of the mix. I like the arrangement. That’s not [Charles] Tolliver’s big band, is it? I love the voicings with the trombones, and the trumpet section is killing. Whoo! Whoever’s playing lead, I need his number. It’s so funny how the mix can turn you off to a project. The music I’m digging. [during trombone solo] Whoever that is, it’s not Robin [Eubanks], but they check out Robin. I hope it’s not some older guy that I’m now offending. The orchestration is great. I honestly need to check out some more big bands. I liked what the piano player did, but his or her overall feel and time-there are a lot of people who don’t sound like they’re practicing with a metronome. Sometimes I feel like the rhythm section is doing one thing but the piano player isn’t locking in. They’re either rushing or dragging, but they don’t lock in. Mulgrew locks in. Herbie, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett-I’m not talking about swinging, but they lock in.

AFTER: Damn. He never clicked in my head, but now it makes sense. One of my first auditions was when David Murray came here to play the Painted Bride [Art Center] and picked up a band of Philly cats. It was probably around this time. It ended up being [saxophonist] Rob Landham, Edgar Bateman on drums and Eric Lewis played piano.

5. Randy Weston/Billy Harper

“Blues to Senegal” (from The Roots of the Blues, Sunnyside). Weston, piano; Harper, tenor saxophone. Recorded in 2013.

BEFORE: [after a minute] Randy Weston and Billy Harper. There’s really not much to say about either of these cats. [listens to Weston playing] Listen to that. That’s one of the coolest cats ever.

AFTER: I knew there was a project that they just did, but also Billy Harper has a very distinctive sound. I’ve played with him in the Cookers and other things over the years. Really nice cat. I love his tone and his feel. It’s grown-up music. Randy Weston was one of the judges when I did the Monk competition [in 1999], and he was just so real. He reamed me out the last time I saw him, though, because when I did the Monk contest I wore some traditional Nigerian garb and he was all like, “Yeah.” [raises fist in salute] Then when I saw him recently he was like, “Man, why you got that suit on?”

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Originally Published