WBGO Radar

Orrin Evans: Liberation Blues

pianist Orrin Evans

Orrin Evans has demonstrated he's one of the most distinctive and inventive pianists of his generation.

A Philadelphia native, he was guided early on by Trudy Pitts and Shirley Scott, and later came under the watchful eyes of Kenny Barron and Joanne Brackeen, among others.

He's comfortable in any setting, as he has shown in performances and recordings with Wallace Roney, Mingus Big Band, Pharoah Sanders, Branford Marsalis, Gary Bartz or Bobby Watson, who introduced Evans to New York in the early 90s.

Evans' own catalog of work features trios, his two Captain Black Big Band recordings and the envelope pushing collective Tarbaby, with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits.

What shines here is "Liberation Blues," a live recording at Smoke in New York, unveiling a new quintet with bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Bill Stewart, saxophonist JD Allen and trumpeter Sean Jones, who Evans has produced on past recordings.

They take off with the five tune "Liberation Blues Suite," a tribute to Orrin's long time friend Dwayne Burno, who passed away suddenly in December of 2013, just before this recording was made.

Burno's "Devil Eyes" is a darker shade on the classic "Angel Eyes". JD Allen is on fire.

"Juanita" was written by Burno in tribute to his mother. The quintet moves this 4/4 piece in swinging fashion.

Composed by the leader in high school, "A Lil' D.A.B. a do Ya" has Evans in spirited back and forth with Allen and Jones in a stop time crowd pleasing exchange.

"A Free Man," written by pianist Donald Brown, is a gorgeous tribute here to Burno, with Orrin also reciting the words. As he said, "the words of Donald's piece gave pause and promise that now Dwayne is a free man".

The title track, "Liberation Blues", revisits the Tarbaby inspiration, with Jones' trumpet and Allen's sax exploring alongside the leader.

"Simply Green" is  Evans' nod to the sweet cymbal work of drummer Rodney Green. Drummer Bill Stewart sets the pace for this swinger which Orrin imagined as the kind of tune Betty Carter might put words to.

Philadelphian organist Trudy Pitts was an early Evans inspiration. Her tune "Anysha" had it's debut on an early Rahsaan Roland Kirk recording. As Trumpeter Jones lays out,  Allen's horn and Evans' piano explore this hauntingly beautiful ballad.

Inspired by the book "Return to Love" by Marianne Williamson, Orrin's "Meant to Shine" was performed by the leader at one of his first gigs at Smoke years back. Plenty of room here for the pianist to update his remembrance.

Drummer Paul Motian's free form "Mumbo Jumbo" lets all dance on this Motian modern.

"How High The Moon" has the leader developing his considerable thoughts in trio, swinging this standard to a new loftier place.

Miles Davis' "The Theme" has closed many a jazz set. Once again in trio, they sound like they're just getting started.

For the encore, Orrin invited vocalist Joanna Pascale to the stage for, as he says, a fresh sound with hip chords on "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes". Stewart's drum work sets a nice groove for singer and trio to liberate this closer.

An inspiring night captured for all to enjoy, Orrin Evans "Liberation Blues" from Smoke Sessions comes out August 12.

Evans and his quintet return to Smoke to celebrate the release of the CD with three sets each night on August 8th and 9th

  - Gary Walker, WBGO music director

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