As a bandleader, Orrin Evans seems remarkably egoless. He doesn’t write to showcase his instrumental gifts, or turn solos into marathons; hell, he doesn’t even take the first solo most of the time. Instead, his albums happily put the spotlight on his session mates, to the extent that The Evolution of Oneself, his 2015 trio session, seemed to be as much about Christian McBride’s bass as Evans’ piano.
All of which is to explain why a listener hearing The Magic of Now without any information might assume that it’s alto player Immanuel Wilkins’ session. Some of that, of course, stems from Wilkins’ distinctive voice and commanding style, a combination that’s made the young saxophonist one of the brightest lights of his generation. But it’s also because Evans is more than happy to give Wilkins room to blow. On the Mulgrew Miller tune “The Eleventh Hour,” Wilkins owns the first half of the track, working off Bill Stewart’s fevered drumming to spin a fiery, vocalized postbop solo to which Evans contributes only the occasional chord (bassist Vicente Archer doesn’t come back in until the last minute). Wilkins also contributes three out of the album’s eight tunes, among them “The Poor Fisherman,” a wistful ballad with a classical sense of harmony, and a drolly Ellingtonian mid-tempo number called “Momma Loves.”
Don’t take that to mean Evans spends all his time here on the sidelines. He completely dominates “Libra,” the album’s catchiest tune, offering a dynamic solo that deftly plays off Stewart’s soulful drive, while the piano half of “The Eleventh Hour” not only matches Wilkins’ incendiary improvisation but occasionally surpasses it. But the album’s best moments come on tracks like “Levels,” where the interplay between the four is so incandescent that it’s hard not to marvel at the magic of being in the moment.