Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band: Presence (Smoke Sessions)

Review of the first album in four years by the pianist's large ensemble, now nine pieces

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Cover of Presence by Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band

The big Orrin Evans news of the past year has, undoubtedly, been the pianist’s induction into the Bad Plus following the decision of that trio’s co-founder, Ethan Iverson, to leave after a decade and a half. Fortunately, Evans’ new endeavor still affords him enough time to pursue creative outlets outside of TBP, including the Captain Black Big Band, which he founded in 2009. Presence is their third album in all, and first in four years. The band now features nine players at any given time, half of what it once did, but it packs no less of a punch.

Naturally, Evans’ duty as leader of a nonet is decidedly different from serving as an equal component of a trio, but he relishes both equally. He’s happy to share the compositional and arrangement roles with other band members, and more than generous in doling out the solo slots. From the swinging show opener, “The Scythe,” contributed by David Gibson (one of three trombonists here), Evans is supported by a simpatico crew that’s equally adept at honoring big-band traditions and tossing them aside. When Gibson’s ’bone spotlight gives way to Evans’ own solo late in the tune, the rhythm section of bassist Madison Rast and drummer Jason Brown has already turned in the direction Evans is heading.

On “Flip the Script,” the title track of one of Evans’ own trio recordings, the pianist doesn’t temper the shambolic nature of the original, but rather gives the full big band his blessing to take as much liberty as the tightly framed arrangement allows them. The frantic title track, authored by trumpeter Josh Lawrence, also finds the ensemble navigating a comfy balance between playing as a team and bolting from that very notion.

The nine tracks on Presence were recorded live at two different Philadelphia venues, South Kitchen & Jazz Parlor and Chris’ Jazz Café, and they’re all imbued with the kind of camaraderie that comes only from tearing loose in front of an adoring hometown crowd.