Pianist and composer Demetrius Nabors is one of the go-to musicians on the Detroit jazz scene and has performed with a plethora of national artists such as R&B singer/songwriter Kem, guitarist Tim Bowman, and trumpeter Willie Bradley. Aside from his work as a sideman, Nabors has released a number of acclaimed albums, including 2021’s Perseverance, which tackled his experiences during the turbulence of 2020.
His fifth release, Evolution, is inspired by his days studying with legendary pianist and educator Geri Allen at the University of Michigan. The compositions are direct evidence of Nabors’ progression as a composer, producer, arranger, and pianist since that time and could be called a tribute of sorts to his late, great mentor. Off the bat, Nabors entices the listeners with a seductive groove in “Mesmerize” based on a mixed meter with a bass ostinato.
“Strollin’ Down Blaine” slows things down a bit, with a much more mellow vibe influenced by his time playing in church. Nabors sought to replicate the feeling of church members strolling down the aisle during service, so he set the tune to a smoother beat; bass and piano take center stage.
On each track, Nabors’ goal is to bring the listener on a wide-ranging excursion, experiencing a myriad of emotions. He does just that on every song, especially on the expressive tune “Mourning Widow,” which features a mix of turbulent yet graceful melodies via strings, and Andrew Bishop on clarinet.
All of the songs on Evolution are Nabors originals, except for the John Coltrane standard “Giant Steps.” Nabors’ arrangement of that tune gives it a smoother jazz feel, and Detroit saxophonist Desean Jones, also a Coltrane head, does an amazing job tackling the difficult chord changes throughout the piece.