If Bill Evans didn’t have the stylistic pedigree that he does—studying with Dave Liebman, spending years in Miles Davis’ band, collaborating with John McLaughlin and Herbie Hancock—it’s doubtful that this magazine would be publishing a review of his latest album. For Rise Above is indisputably a rock record, of a sort that could have been made 30 years ago, loaded with fat funk beats, heavy riffs, bluesy vocals and occasional touches of Joe Satriani-esque shred guitar (the most prolonged coming from Jake Cinninger on “Tales of a Shiny Devil”). The only element that feels remotely jazzy is Evans’ saxophone, which can coax clever twists even out of material as unpromising in its straight-ahead nature as Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.”
To further convey a sense of the general tone of this album, it may be helpful to observe that not one but two veterans of the Allman Brothers Band appear on it. Gregg Allman handles vocals on the mildly amusing “Love Is Working Overtime,” and Warren Haynes sings and plays a mean slide guitar on the title track. Other guests include Anders Osborne, Murali Coryell (who sings but doesn’t play guitar) and fellow Miles vet Mike Stern, whose searing solo on “Love Game” is firmly in the blues-rock vein, no postbop skills required.
One timbral element that sticks out is Ryan Cavanaugh’s banjo, which adds a rustic flavor to six of the 10 tracks, catching the ear especially when it’s filtered to sound lo-fi on “Rise Above.” Even though everything is played expertly here by all concerned, more such surprises would have been welcome.Originally Published