Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band - Presence

80

The Guardian

(Smoke Sessions)

Sometimes the sheer spirit of a jazz performance drowns out reservations such as whether that improvised solo was nailed tight enough to the groove, or whether the agenda ticks enough identity-confirming boxes. The Captain Black Big Band led by the Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans (Ethan Iverson’s heir to the Bad Plus piano chair since January) operate with that kind of ragged aplomb. Their nearest relative is the Mingus Big Band, in which Evans also plays, for its explosive, riffing swingers and strong solos. But Evans also favours the bandleader-as-improv-auteur methods of the late Butch Morris: such “conduction” techniques are exhilarating but chancy territory for big jazz groups.

This third Captain Black release was recorded live with a nine-piece edition of the band at two Philadelphia jazz clubs. Trombonist David Gibson’s curtain-raiser The Scythe is a fast, hard-punching descending melody, with handclaps enforcing its fervent swing. It soon gives way to a string of solos, from Troy Roberts’s ruggedly Coltraneish (if occasionally rhythmically approximate) tenor sax opener, to Evans’ teasingly fragmented invitation for the band to barge back in. The Question by Eric Revis bursts out of a spiralling, low-note-honking Roberts sax intro to merge collective improv tussles and exclamatory horn shouts. Evans’s When It Comes and Flip the Script are bright staccato riff-melodies full of snappy solos and dizzying time shifts, and Roberts’s Trams is the sort of hooky groover that embodies the Captain Black fusion of party spirit and dangerous adventure. Their nonchalance about ensemble polish won’t charm everyone, but wider opportunities to hear them live would definitely make them new friends.

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Fri Nov 23 10:00:05 CET 2018