March 21, 2011


First Listen: Orrin Evans, 'Captain Black Big Band' (Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR)

There's a certain type of payoff only a big band, or large jazz ensemble, can provide. It's akin to driving a muscle car that doubles as a paint store: So much momentum and horsepower, so many colors and textures. Driving that car requires an investment, too; you try to marshal 15-20 top-flight musicians, artistically or economically. But plenty are still willing to make a go of it, in search of the oomph and oooh only an extended family of horns can provide.

It makes sense that the pianist Orrin Evans is one of them. He's been on the circuit since the mid-'90s, and leading bands for nearly that long. (He's got a new small group record coming this summer.) He knows both the Philadelphia and New York jazz scenes well, and has often sought to bring them closer. And as a performer, he brings a bold intensity to the piano, seemingly informed by McCoy Tyner's voicings and a heavyweight boxer's roundhouse punches.

The jazz orchestra that Orrin Evans created is called the Captain Black Big Band, though it's almost the Captain Black Big Bands, plural. A lot of musicians — young and old, from either Philadelphia or New York — played on this debut album: 38 in total, over seven tracks. They rotated in and out during this series of live performances from early 2010; Evans even got two other pianists to take turns in his own chair. Indeed, there's a collective spirit to the enterprise, where Evans is more community organizer than meticulous auteur. He wrote but four of seven tunes, only one of which he arranged for big band, while bandmates wrote and arranged the other numbers.

This town hall meeting of a band makes the kind of jazz that nearly everyone could agree to call jazz.


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Posted by at March 21, 2011 5:07 PM

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