Orrin Evans - Freedom (2011)
You might say that top-notch jazz pianist Orrin Evans has become a fixture here at SER. It all got started four years ago when we noted his participation in Robin Eubanks' EB3 unit that made the phenomenal double-CD Live, Vol. 1 of 2007. Early last year we salivated over Evans' Bobby Watson tribute Faith In Action, a Best of 2010 selection, and again later in same the year as part of the cooperative trio Tarbaby for the widely acclaimed The End of Fear. Nick took over the reins of praising Evans for a spell, as he found treasure in Evans' big band project Captain Black Bad Band, followed up by a SER Sitdown with the man himself, depicted here and here.
The productive streak for Evans' continues with next week's issue of Freedom, a return back to the small combo format. With Dwayne Burno on bass and either Byron Landham or Anwar Marshall on drums, Evans plows through a program of nine tracks that's mostly covers and mostly trio format with his usual tasteful, tradition-minded style. This time he's not paying tribute to the songs of a particular mentor but he does dedicate the album to the forebears Charles Fambrough, Trudy Pitts and Sid Simmons, all fellow Philly jazz greats, all who have passed away just months after Evans recorded this album. While they were still alive when these tracks were being laid down, it's clear that Evans was already reflecting back, as Freedom pulls together many older tunes, not necessarily widely covered, but reflecting Orrin's personal favorites.
It might be a little ironic that Fambrough's One For Honor" is on here, since Evans didn't know the composer he so admired would be deceased before this record sees the light of day, but no sense of irony is needed to appreciate his discerning, controlled interpretation of the song. I also particularly like Shades of Green," Oasis" and Herbie Hancock's Just Enough" for similar reasons: Evans picked out some well conceived melodies, found the harmonic opportunities and exploited them in an efficient manner by modulating his tempo to fit the song. Dita" is the lone Evans original, a ruminative piece that unfolds slowly, spare but impressionistic in the way Bill Evans could do so well. Burno's mournful bass solo adds gracefully to the somber mood.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Orrin Evans talks about upholding the legacy of McCoy Tyner, stalking Ralph Bowenand loving Philadelphia just the way it is.]
The inclusion of Philadelphia legend Larry McKenna is a real treat. His Dexter Gordon articulations is the sensitive, smooth old school style you rarely hear from the younger generations, but the fellow Philly homeboy Evans knows what McKenna can bring to a session. McKenna supplies vintage warmth and swing to the numbers Gray's Ferry" and Time After Time" (the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne tune, folks, not the Cyndi Lauper one).
As arguably one of the crown jewels of Posi-Tone Record's deep roster of jazz aces who makes nothing less than solid recordings, it looks like we're no where near done talking about Orrin Evans. Look for Freedom to go on sale June 21.