This review appears in the August 2012 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

Orrin Evans
Flip the Script (Posi-Tone)

By David R. Adler

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.

In the current issue of Philadelphia Weekly:

Surface to Air
Sun., July 15, 8pm. $7. With Rake, Nick Millevoi. Café Clave, 4305 Locust St. 215.386.3436

There’s serenity but also a restless spark in the music of Surface to Air. Jonathan Golberger’s acoustic guitar and Jonti Siman’s upright bass give a hint of stripped-down folk and jazz. Rohin Khemani’s tabla and percussion bring an energized North Indian element, pushing the trio into open improvised terrain. The eponymous debut is mostly original, but even the cover of “Heysátan” by Sigur Rós and the theme from Blood Simple end up sounding like originals. At the new underground music series Rip Rig (first and third Sundays), they’ll share a bill with local six- and 12-string guitar maverick Nick Millevoi and the duo Rake (Ryan A. Miller, Jake Nussbaum). — David R. Adler

In the new issue of Philadelphia Weekly

Little Worlds
Sat., July 7, 8pm. $5. With The Horrible Department. Highwire Gallery, 2040 Frankford Ave. 215.426.2685

Guitarist Ryan Mackstaller, trombonist Rick Parker and drummer Tim Kuhl are the Brooklyn-based Little Worlds, and they’re making a series of EPs focusing on Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos. (Book Two is out soon.) Composed for piano as a teaching tool, Mikrokosmos is no mere exercise: it stands up as a 153-part masterpiece, comparable in some ways to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with section titles like “Triplets in Lydian Mode” and “Two Major Pentachords.” Little Worlds expands the palette for three instruments plus electronics, recasting Bartók in a distinctly noir-ish experimental vein and drawing on jazz/classical precedents that go back decades. West Philly’s The Horrible Department, a theatrical, accordion-fueled troupe, shares the bill. — David R. Adler

Sat., July 7, 7:30pm. $34.50-$59.50. Mann Center, 5201 Parkside Ave. 215.546.7900

Given that late-era Grateful Dead was a rickety, frequently out-of-tune machine, Furthur (named after a legendary Ken Kesey tour bus) is arguably a better representation of the band and its legacy. Founding icons Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, plus newer recruits, have found a way to keep the Dead’s repertoire afloat, and why not. Say what you will about the late Jerry Garcia and his tie-dyed minions, but the Dead is a piece of cultural history, the musical link between hippiedom and the earlier Beat Generation. Their epic, country-jazzy improv spawned an entire genre, and they’ve still got something a lot of “jam bands” lack: songwriting genius. — David R. Adler

In the new issue of Philadelphia Weekly:

Erik Deutsch
Sun., June 3, 9pm. $10. World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St. 215.222.1400

There’s much to live up to when you title your new album Demonio Teclado, or “demon keyboard.” But Erik Deutsch, on the piano, Rhodes, organ and other teclados, has all the requisite skills. The former Coloradan and current Brooklynite is prized in groove-jazz and pop circles, with sideman stints ranging from Charlie Hunter to Shooter Jennings (son of Waylon). His 2007 debut Fingerprint was a marvel, combining modern jazz and hints of acoustic Americana. The 2009 follow-up Hush Money was more electric, in line with Deutsch’s rootsy instrumental rock leanings. His new originals, varied in mood, dovetail with tasty covers of Ike Turner and Neil Young. — David R. Adler

My story on the Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, now online at A Blog Supreme.

My Critic’s Pick about the event, in the new Philadelphia Weekly. Plenty more info here.

In the current issue of Philadelphia Weekly:

Randy Napoleon
Mon., Apr. 23, 8pm. $10. Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom St. 215.568.3131

From Randy Napoleon’s boyish appearance one might think he’s just starting out. In fact, he’s one of the more accomplished and well-rounded jazz guitarists of our day. Most know him as a supremely tasteful accompanist to singers such as Michael Bublé, Eric Comstock and Freddy Cole (Nat’s younger brother). But his penchant for bluesy soul-jazz comes through on his latest, The Jukebox Crowd, a sextet affair with Hammond organ and plenty o’ horns. He can also cut it in lean and modern post-bop settings, judging from organist Jared Gold’s 2008 smoker Solids & Stripes. His one-nighter in Philly will feature a trio with bassist Madison Rast and drummer Stefan Schatz. — David R. Adler

In the new issue of Philadelphia Weekly:

Steve Lehman Trio
Sun., Apr. 15, 8pm. Free. The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St. 215.573.3234

Steve Lehman came to town last year and performed his “Nos Revi Nella” for alto sax and string quartet. That’s backwards for Allen Iverson — a man Lehman sees not just as a point guard but a great “spatial improviser.” Basketball as music? It makes sense when one hears Lehman’s skewed abstract rhythm and surging forward momentum, well captured on his 2009 octet disc Travail, Transformation and Flow. On his new Dialect Fluorescent, Lehman pares down to trio and deconstructs music by Coltrane, Duke Pearson and Jackie McLean, in addition to his own. Bassist Chris Tordini subs for Matt Brewer on what will be a flame-throwing album release gig. — David R. Adler

In the new issue of Philadelphia Weekly:

Scallion/Ember Schrag/Susan Alcorn
Thu., Apr. 5, 7:30pm. $6. Highwire Gallery, 2040 Frankford Ave. 215.426.2685

Philly’s Darian Scatton, singer/multi-instrumentalist and founder of the tiny Edible Onion label, records under the name Scallion and makes absorbing, vulnerable music full of hazy tempos and textures. He shares this bill with labelmate Ember Schrag, a Nebraska-born singer/guitarist with a darker, folkier acoustic bent. Joining in, from Baltimore, is Susan Alcorn, whose 2006 title And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar sums up her project — bringing the pedal steel beyond its genre of origin and into the arena of improvised and experimental music. She’s done inspired solo work and collaborations with such fellow adventurers as Eugene Chadbourne, Joe McPhee and Andrea Parkins. — David R. Adler

Paco De Lucía
Tue., Apr. 10, 8pm. $35-$67. Kimmel Center, 260 South Broad St. 215.731.3333

In the early ’80s, flamenco guitar master Paco de Lucía teamed up with fellow acoustic shredders John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola to make Friday Night in San Francisco and Passion, Grace & Fire — albums that melted the brains of American jazz guitar geeks. But de Lucía has proven a timeless artist, an innovator who has brought traditional flamenco into contact with jazz and other modern sounds. His taut rhythms and lightning staccato solo runs are instantly recognizable, and richly documented on his new two-disc release En Vivo: Conciertos Live in Spain 2010. His troupe in Philly will include keyboard, bass, percussion, two vocalists and a young dancer named Farruco. — David R. Adler

In the new issue of Philadelphia Weekly:

Frank Wess Quintet
Sat., Mar. 24, 8pm. $25. Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom St. 215.568.3131

Philly saxophonists know where they’ll be this weekend: hearing 90-year-old Kansas City native Frank Wess, who made his greatest mark with Count Basie’s “New Testament” band from 1953 to 1964. With his flute — just as imposing as his tenor — Wess gave a distinctive sparkle to Neal Hefti’s classic Basie arrangements, helping to carve out a future for postwar big bands on such albums as April In Paris, Atomic Basie and Chairman of the Board. Recent collabs with Hank Jones, Paul Meyers and others show he can still invent blues-drenched melodies for miles. His A-list quintet will feature pianist George Cables, guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, bassist Santi Debriano and drummer Victor Lewis. — David R. Adler

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