Bassist Eric Revis, with his immense tone and supple sense of swing, has helped define the sound of the Branford Marsalis Quartet for over 15 years. As a leader he’s taken an eclectic approach, starting from acoustic jazz but adding electric guitar, strings and other textures. In recent years he has embraced a freer concept, working with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Avram Fefer and Michael Marcus. Parallax, with Ken Vandermark on tenor and clarinet, Jason Moran on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums, leans strongly in that direction as well. (It’s pertinent that Revis, Waits and Parallax co-producer Orrin Evans are the core of the free-leaning ensemble Tar Baby.)
Revis features himself on three solo bass tracks: the opening “Prelusion,” with frenetic bowing; “Percival,” a tight pizzicato miniature (the title is Cecil Taylor’s middle name); and “Parallax,” the finale, rich in somber overtones and washes of sound. But the main focus is the band, switching up from red-blooded ferocity (“Hyperthral,” Vandermark’s “Split”) to a subtler chamber-like aesthetic (“MXR,” “Celestial Hobo”).
As much as Parallax is “free,” it’s also strongly compositional: Revis’ “Edgar,” a nod to fellow bassist Edgar Meyer, stands out for its repeating double-stop arco pattern and contrapuntal piano-clarinet theme emerging from chaos. “Dark Net,” an ensemble theme of daunting complexity — and no solos at all — is by altoist and Clean Feed labelmate Michaël Attias (a fine move to highlight work by an underrated composer and peer).
Many don’t realize, but avant-garde jazz operates from a position of deepest respect for the tradition. For Revis, and certainly for Moran in his own work, the enthusiasm stretches back well before bebop. Their reading of Fats Waller’s “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” begins with the melody almost exactly as written, but against a backdrop of wild sonic abstraction. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” acquires a slow, booming beat true to Morton’s own accurate description of the song: “Smutty.”
Pianist Orrin Evans is on a hot streak. For evidence look to his recent Posi-Tone releases Freedom, Faith In Action and Captain Black Big Band, not to mention his sideman turn with Ralph Bowen on Power Play or his work with the co-led group Tarbaby. On his new Flip the Script, the Philadelphian enlists bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards for a trio session of great depth and sustained focus. It’s a mostly original date, though “Question,” the bracingly free opening salvo, is by Tarbaby’s bassist Eric Revis.
While Flip the Script has its episodes of speed and ferocity, Evans and crew also do what the album title suggests by slowing way down. In the fragmented blues of “Big Small” and the meditative calm of the reharmonized “Someday My Prince Will Come” (the only standard), we hear control and invention at the most reined-in tempos — an essential element of jazz artistry. The ballad “When,” guided by Edwards on subtle mallets, also highlights the trio’s contemplative side. “TC’s Blues,” first recorded by Evans’ group Seed in 2000, is a rhythmic test of another sort, with pauses and cues that guide the band through a maze of slow-to-fast transitions. It’s a pivotal moment on the disc.
Along with the soaring waltzes “Clean House” and “The Answer” and the powerful title track — fine pieces of writing from Evans — we have two additional covers: “A Brand New Day,” Luther Vandross’ contribution to The Wiz soundtrack, and “The Sound of Philadelphia” (or “TSOP”) by Philly soul legends Gamble & Huff. The latter, a lively 1974 disco hit remade for sparse solo piano, is decidedly bittersweet. This was once the theme from Soul Train; it’s still played at the ballpark before the Phillies’ home games. Evans’ version is like a poignant sigh, a nod to Philly in all its musical diversity and dysfunction. As the finale of one of his finest efforts to date, it’s simply ingenious.
Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band Mon., Mar. 28, 8pm. $10. Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom St. 215.568.3131 www.chrisjazzcafe.com
Aside from being one of the most sought-after pianists in jazz, Orrin Evans is a kind of community leader and informal ambassador for the Philadelphia scene. His current project is the Captain Black Big Band, an extended family with members of all races, sexes and age groups gathered together for a noble purpose: to swing like beasts. Since the group polished its sound and rapport in extended residencies at Chris’s, it’s only fitting they return to celebrate their eponymous debut album, hot off the presses, recorded live in Philly and New York. The tunes are mostly Evans’s, and the tight, passionate arrangements, by altoist Todd Bashore, Baltimore bass clarinetist Todd Marcus and others, make the band sound like an advancing army. — David R. Adler
(Orrin Evans plays Smoke in New York, March 25 & 26, with a quintet featuring Eddie Henderson, Joel Frahm, Ben Wolfe and Donald Edwards.)
Sullivan Hall was one of five venues to host Winter Jazzfest 2011, but the bookings in that room, handled by the presenting organization Revive Da Live, skewed decidedly toward a jazz/hip-hop hybrid aesthetic. That certainly didn’t mean swing was unwelcome. So on the festival’s second night (Jan. 8th), Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band swung, and without apology, offering a sound that was vehement, buoyant and transporting. Evans led from the piano but left much of the cueing to trombone veteran Frank Lacy, who bobbed and swayed to the music and palpably increased the exhilaration in the room. Bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Donald Edwards also didn’t relent. This new Philadelphia-born unit knew exactly how to tailor a short festival set — they played only three of Evans’ tunes but drove them home with urgency and heart. First came “Captain Black,” a midtempo swinger arranged by altoist Todd Bashore. Next was the furiously churning modal waltz “The Sluice,” arranged by Lacy. And last came the slow syncopated 4/4 of “Easy Now,” which Evans dedicated to recently departed Philly greats including Trudy Pitts, Sid Simmons and Charles Fambrough. As baritone saxophonist Mark Allen scaled the heights in a withering solo, the rest of the band — Chelsea Baratz and Victor North on reeds, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Brent White on trombone, plenty more — began a melodious chant (“ea … sy … now…”) and kindled a fleeting connection with the sacred. (David R. Adler)
The atmosphere at Winter Jazzfest is thoroughly come-and-go, friendly to immersive listening but also to skimming the surfaces of the countless bands on display. So one had to hand it to the James Carney Group, which played Kenny’s Castaways on night two (Jan. 8th) and held the close attention of a good-sized crowd throughout a challenging, dynamically varied set. The band was a brass-centric, slightly smaller version of the one Carney employed on his Songlines releases Green-Wood (2007) and Ways and Means (2009). Carney’s saxophone regulars (Tony Malaby, Peter Epstein) were absent, but trombonist Josh Roseman, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Mark Ferber filled the small bandstand and wended their way through Carney’s compositions “Grassy Shoal Hoedown,” “In Lieu of Crossroads” and “The Poetry Wall,” balancing stormy and angular groove-making and quasi-minimalist abstraction. The house Fender Rhodes, as Ben Ratliff noted in the Times, gave the bands appearing at Kenny’s a too-similar sound, although the fact that Rhodes is an integral part of Carney’s canvas gave him a distinct advantage. He sounded at home, offering dense but non-claustrophobic harmony, prodding the soloists into open-ended exchanges and generous moments in the spotlight. There was a noticeable extra jolt whenever Alessi started to blow — an intensity and clarity of purpose that made all the casual listeners look up and get serious. (DA)