Orrin Evans’ latest #knowingishalfthebattle in stores today, 10/7

Pianist/composer Orrin Evans’ latest release is a guitar-saturated exploration of his original tunes and choice covers. The core band on the release is Luques Curtis on bass and Mark Whitfield, Jr. on drums with key contributions from guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Kurt Rosenwinkel as well as reedist Caleb Curtis and effervescent vocalist M’Balia. The album was recorded live in the studio giving it a sense of immediacy.

Each guitarist has a very distinctive sound and though they only appear together on one cut, the moody “Heavy Hangs the Head That Wears the Crown,” they provide an adhesive feeling that holds the album together as a distinct piece. Caleb Curtis’ saxophone and flute work make him someone to keep an eye on in the future as does the up-and-comer Whitfield—the son of the great jazz guitarist, Mark Whitfield.

Though M’Balia only appears on two cuts, they both demonstrate her strengths as an interpreter and improviser. The David Bowie classic, “Kooks” is powerful. The singer escalates the repeating vocal lines of the tune altering them ever so slightly on each pass. The intensity of Rosenwinkel’s guitar and Evans’ piano drives the tune as Curtis plays the basic melody line on his bass. By the end of the song, she takes it into places even Bowie may not have imagined.

Evans is a generous bandleader, giving everyone a chance to solo and make a mark on each track. When he takes the lead, his buoyant touch anchors the music. While his work on the Fender Rhodes keyboard is strong, his thoughtful approach on piano stands out particularly on the cut, “Chiara.” Whitfield, Jr. also demonstrates, through stealthy brushwork, that he has big ears.

The musicians show their Philadelphia roots by covering “Slife,” a tune by the Philly-based composer Jason Fifield. In the liner notes, Evans says, “…(our) version teeter-totters on being a normal straight up jazz standard and a more avant-garde piece.” Following an extremely fluid solo with some rock-ish note bending from Eubanks, Evans delivers one of my favorite solos on the album.

Prior to digging into this album, I was more familiar with Evans’ name than I was with his music. With such strong playing from all the musicians and interesting compositions that grow on your ears, I will be digging further into this fine musician.

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