Orrin Evans: Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone PR 8078)
There’s nothing like hearing a big band charging ahead at full throttle, which is what you get with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band. The tunes, arrangements and style is a contemporary and updated take on the traditional, swinging, high powered big band; it’s nothing like recent work by Maria Schneider or Darcy James Argue. The disc was recorded on three different occasions: two consecutive nights at The Jazz Gallery in NYC in April of ’10 with the opening tune recorded in Philadelphia at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in February of that year. Due to the different venues and the fact there were several weeks in between recordings the personnel varies, and as such there are a lot of folks who contributed to the album, some you’ve probably heard of such as saxophonists Tia Fuller, Jaleel Shaw and Wayne Escoffery, as well as those who I am less familiar with, but who are no less killing. Soloists are listed, but other than that it’s difficult to tell who played on what night – but really it doesn’t matter because every track is consistently engaging and well executed. The band’s arrangements, which strike a perfect balance between solos and ensemble playing, are by Ralph Peterson, Gianluca Renzi, Todd Bashore, Todd Marcus and Orrin Evans. The section playing and rhythm section is tight throughout. “Art of War” opens up the album, with altoman Rob Landham whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his altissimo acrobatics. Renzi’s “Here’s the Captain” features an opening piano solo by Evans before the horn sections jump in and play against each other with counter statements, it’s an updated take on the arranging methods of the early Basie units – but don’t take that to mean this is a throwback outfit. Victor North’s exploratory tenor solo lays perfectly over the Afro-Cuban-esque groove and is stoked nicely by the horn backgrounds near the end of his solo. Evans’ solo, backed by a medium up swing ride cymbal pattern from Gene Jackson, builds in intensity and tension, as he lays down right hand single note runs with highly syncopated and accented left hand chords. Evans’ “Easy Now,” arranged by Todd Marcus, throws down some serious brass bombast – the bass bone and bari sax players are straight nasty here. Lead trumpeters Brian Kilpatrick and Walter White, who damn near blows the house down on “Big Jimmy,” are bad bad men throughout. Jaleel Shaw’s alto solo on the album’s closer “Jena 6,” and which takes up the track’s final seven minutes, is the record’s highest point for me (but I’m biased because I’m a saxophonist). He runs the gamut, from free time probing statements that eventually settle into scorching fast bebop runs spurred on by the rhythm section and the monster horn background chords, to growled screams, to a climaxing solo cadenza that suggests an urgency and need to get everything he can out of his horn at that particular moment. Evans’ Captain Black Big Band is one of the most fun, energetic, swinging and compelling big band records I’ve heard in a while. If you can’t see them live (which I’m sure I won’t be able to do, as I live outside Kansas City) get the record.