“This from That” sounds like a flashback of Wayne Shorter writing for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid-’60s. An initially knotty opening passage straightens into a melodic motif that adds rhythmic and harmonic complexity when reintroduced near the end of a pair of long, brilliant, and disparate horn solos. The drummer is all over the kit, dropping bombs with the toms and crashing the cymbals. In the final minute, he turns up the heat on a simmering five-note refrain from the horns until it explodes in climax.
The composer is not Wayne Shorter but pianist Falkner Evans; the drummer not Blakey but Matt Wilson; the horns are Michael Blake on tenor, Ted Nash on alto, and Ron Horton on trumpet, with bassist Belden Bullock completing the principal lineup. “This from That” is one of nine superb Evans originals that make Marbles one of the most consistently enjoyable mainstream postbop albums of this or any year. And one of the most unexpected.
Evans hadn’t released a record since his 2011 quintet date The Point of the Moon. In the nine years since, he’s worked in mostly solo, duo, and trio formats in clubs around his Greenwich Village home. But his pen and his vision were pointed toward a larger ensemble—“with three horns you can do so much more,” he says in Marbles’ publicity notes.
So how did a relatively obscure pianist—the third cousin to author William Faulkner who logged four years in the ’80s with Western-swing band Asleep at the Wheel before moving to New York—get to cherry-pick his ideal septet? (Vibraphonist Steve Nelson appears on three cuts, and takes a commanding feature turn on “Hidden Gems.”) By remaining a highly respected presence in the world’s most challenging jazz neighborhood, that of the “musician’s musician.”
Marbles retains The Point of the Moon’s virtues: deft compositions and synergized improvisation. The upgrade lies in its expanded palette via the trade of Greg Tardy for Blake and the addition of Nash. All three horn players are multi-instrumentalists (check the piquant soprano-flute-trumpet chromaticism on the sinuous opener, “Pina”), and the contrast between Blake’s often brusque tenor tone and Nash’s preference for sly, quicksilver alto passages is a tonic. Meanwhile, the splendid timekeeping core remains. Wilson has been playing with Evans for decades, and Bullock came on board in 2007. They are the backbone of Marbles, postbop Messengers for a modern era.