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Orrin Evans: The Evolution of Oneself

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Some jazz pairings seem all but inevitable until they prove stubbornly elusive. So it’s great to see two of Philly’s best, pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Christian McBride, finally collaborate on a CD-and an audacious one at that, featuring drummer Karriem Riggins in an equally prominent role.

The Evolution of Oneself isn’t a concept album, strictly speaking, but it has recurring themes and brief hip-hop interludes devised by Evans’ teenage son, Matthew. Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” receives three reprises, and whether you view the tune as a personal favorite or an overworked warhorse, you’ll appreciate the group’s unwaveringly imaginative interpretations: The melody and core harmonies consistently reveal new colors and dimensions, amid sharp rhythmic displacements and surprising shifts in mood and tempo. Ultimately, the tune inspires the album’s two-part coda featuring guest vocalist JD Walter’s resonant baritone. Now and then, too, the trio is augmented by guitarist Marvin Sewell, who helps boldly transform the hoary “Wildwood Flower” into a 21st-century elegy. Sewell also adds the requisite finesse to Grover Washington Jr.’s “A Secret Place,” a tribute to its late composer, the great Philly reedman.

Nothing, though, is more evocative than the soul-jazz excursion the trio takes on “Sweet Sid,” the Jonathan Michel-penned homage to the late Philly pianist Sid Simmons, or more warmly lyrical than Evans’ “Ruby Red,” a ballad dedicated to his godmother. The latter offers a dynamic contrast

to the muscular attack and sleek pro-pulsion the trio reveals on “Tsagli’s Lean” and several other delights.

Originally Published