Liberation Blues: Orrin Evans

Orrin Evans

We are well into February and the end of winter is in sight. Indeed, I have planted some Oriental Lily bulbs And Double Freesias this very afternoon. It’s also time for my monthly review of a contemporary set and, hopefully it is something that readers will enjoy rather more than last month’s disappointing selection which featured Troyka.

Orrin Evans is a New York based pianist (born in Philadelphia in 1976). Recorded live at Smoke on New York’s Broadway (I had to write that as I used to live on Cardiff’s very own Broadway) in January 2014, it has just been issued on the in-house label Smoke Sessions. We’ll be paying Smoke a visit a little later in this review.

I choose contemporary sets in all sorts of ways. This one comes our way via a two-stage process. I’m a regular visitor to Jazz Collector‘s website. This largely concerns itself with monitoring the trade in eye-wateringly expensive early pressings of classic Jazz albums. Recently Jazz Collector wrote about a live performance at Smoke, which is not far from his NYC home. It’s over 20 years since I was last in NYC and the only Jazz club I’ve been to in the home of modern Jazz is Blue Note (where I saw Issac Hayes), so it was great to get a hot tip from a local. Apparently Gregory Porter was a regular fixture there until fame beckoned. Then, in early January when I was scouring the reviews in Jazzwise for a lead, I came across this set. A very positive 4 star endorsement contained the news that this was recorded at Smoke and that sealed my immediate order from an online retailer.

What have we got then? Orrin Evans plays this live set, largely with a quintet context with trumpet and saxophone. The first five tracks are grouped together as The Liberation Blues Suite and are performed as a musical tribute to Dwayne Allen Burno, a bass player and friend of Evans who passed away in late December 2013, a couple of weeks before this recording.

The opener, Devil Eyes, is a Burno composition and great lively blowing piece to kick off with.

Juanita, a cool ballad, is the next track up and as a special surprise, and while it is still on YouTube, why don’t we all jump all jump on my Lear Jet and make our way to grab our seats right down front at Smoke at the launch party for Liberation Blues in August 2014. Ingrid Jensen replaces Sean Jones on trumpet for this live rendition of a second Burno tune.

To play touch or click on the arrow

A Lil’ D.A.B. A do Ya zaps along before we arrive at the contemplative A Free Man? in which Evans delivers fellow pianist Donald Brown’s heartfelt musings on freedom, from slavery in the lyric (though Evans speculates in the sleeve notes that in an afterlife, his friend, Dwayne Allen Burno, is truly free of the pain and limitations caused by the kidney disease which led to his early death. Liberation Blues closes this section of the recording.

Simply Green, one of Orrin Evans own pieces is the sort of performance that elevates this live music from a NYC Jazz club into something that is outstanding. If we had actually been there on one of the recording nights, I’m sure what we witnessed would be unforgettable. Anysha, a beautiful ballad, sourced from Philadelphia organist Trudy Pitts, is every bit as good.

Meant To Shine is the final Evan’s penned item here and it is a further late-night piece, crafted with consummate skill. Paul Motian’s Mumbo Jumbo has a modern and complex beat, which the band play as a challenge, just for musicianly fun and it works well in this context. The sax and trumpet sit out for How High The Moon, which is the standard tune that Charlie Parker borrowed the chord changes for Ornithology from. Miles Davis’s The Theme also played by the piano, bass and drums trio, closes the set before the band are brought back, deservedly. They are joined by vocalist Joanna Pascale for a rendition of The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.

When I finally get to see a performance at Smoke, I’ll tell you all what I think and if you get there first let us know if it is a good as it sounds. In the meantime, Liberation Blues captures all the quality of a great club set that just whets the appetite for a visit. Thanks for the tip Jazz Collector and Jazzwise!

The band etc: Sean Jones (trumpet); JD Allen (trumpet); Orrin Evans (piano); Luques Curtis (bass); Bill Stewart (drums); Joanna Pascale (vocals on final track). Recorded live: 10 & 11 January 2014 at Smoke, New York City. Recorded and Produced by Paul Stache. Sleeve Design: Damon Smith. Photography: Jimmy Katz. Issued on Smoke Sessions, SSR-1409. 2014.

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