In his most recently acquired role as the keyboard-playing third of the Bad Plus, Philadelphia-based Orrin Evans put on his thinking cap and added large doses of quirk to his usual hard bop-enlivened piano stylings for the good of the woolly collective. Solid. What’s left, then, for his workouts with his big band of ever-shifting size is a mix of bright, off-kilter arrangements (Evans’ first substantial contribution to his band’s book as an arranger) that would do the latter-day Gil Evans Orchestra proud (particularly on the brassy “Proclaim Liberty”), gospel traditionalism (on Harry Dixon Loes’ funky-cool “This Little Light of Mine”), flywheel rhythms from drummer Anwar Marshall, and rousing solos from Captain Black ensemble players old and new. To go with these lifted spirits and holy rollings, The Intangible Between is dedicated to trumpeter Roy Hargrove and drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers, both recently deceased and both treasured friends to the pianist.
Having learned how to focus Captain Black’s usual Panavision-like scope with the smaller-ensemble album Presence in 2018, Evans makes every jovial jam by his current crew of vets and newbies tighter than a fresh facelift, yet still loosely soulful. While that comes through more elegantly on simmering Evans compositions such as “That Too” and the fluty “I’m So Glad I Got to Know You,” the band’s tautly grooving brand of open-air soul blasts forth best in trumpeter Josh Lawrence’s warmly humorous arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor.” The song’s fleshy reed and brass sound is crowded, with just enough room to breathe. Evans displays his generosity of spirit and fleet fingering; he and Lawrence also create space to pivot and turn for four bassists (including Evans’ Tarbaby pal Eric Revis) and two drummers—a comic scenario that never comes across like a clown car. That dose of fun is new for the often menacing and moody Orrin Evans, and makes the intangible tangible. Brilliant.