Orrin Evans: Flip the Script

Orrin Evans raised some hackles earlier this year when he piggybacked on Nicholas Payton’s proclamation that the music he plays is no longer to be called jazz but rather Black American Music. The pianist and composer later expounded, clarifying that jazz might be a perfectly acceptable word to describe others’ music, just not his own.

All of which presents a conundrum when experiencing Flip the Script, an album that embodies the tenets of the music known as jazz: Evans stays squarely within the familiar piano-trio format here, with bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards, never veering so far off the grid that the music suggests it’s anything that needs a new name. In fact, it’s his most straight-ahead release in some time.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t exceptional. Call it what he will, Evans and crew have produced a masterfully executed collection of performances, six Evans originals and four well-chosen covers. Of the latter, the most enthralling is the album-closing “T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia),” otherwise known as the theme from Soul Train and something of an anthem in Evans’ hometown. A melancholy, crawling piano solo, it bears little resemblance to the upbeat 1974 R&B chart-topper, save for Evans’ veiled references to the core melody. Luther Vandross’ “A Brand New Day” is given the opposite treatment, ramped up to breakneck velocity by the trio until it has nowhere left to go but away.

The Evans originals follow a similar tack, alternately zooming and poking along. “Big Small” is a turtle’s-pace dirge that allows Wolfe to drop a load of weighty bass bombs, and both “Clean House” and the title track barrel ahead aggressively, Evans barely stopping to breathe. Who needs nomenclature when the music is this good?