Orrin Evans: Grown Folk Bizness
It's been a few years since pianist Orrin Evans placed in the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition. All the while, he's been maturing as an artist with a nice spate of Criss Cross dates along the way documenting that development. Grown Folk Bizness is Evans' third release for the label and it ups the ante even further from what we experienced on his first two illustrative discs. This is due, in part, to the pianist's further amalgamation of his varied influences, but also the product of the heavy company the man keeps. To hold your own under the collective one-two punch of drummer Ralph Peterson is saying something. But Evans not only holds his own, he slings it right back, as the two fire off phrases at each other with deceptive panache. A front row seat to such action can be had by skipping to "Firm Roots," a seditious performance bounding with collective fireworks.
An interesting point to ponder, Peterson has made a few consequential records as of late with pianist Uri Caine (the superlative and recent Blue Wail on Winter and Winter comes to mind) and the concentrated experience that came from that activity must have had some effect on his approach to the recital at hand, as both Evans and Caine tend to be forward-thinking and rambunctious players.
As for his overall concept, Evans avoids the ordinary, maybe to the point of being too cagey at times, but he manages to push the music towards unexpected vistas. An obvious flight from clichés is the opening number, a solo piano take on Hoagy Carmichael's "Rocking Chair" which includes hints of stride, Cecil Taylor, and Monk all rolled into one. "That Old Feeling," which might tend to be associated with pianists along the line of Gene Harris or Dave McKenna, gets a substantial facelift in Evans' hands, a nice section in the middle developed through the use of block chords displaced to the offbeats. Then, as if to suggest that his "bag" is a capacious one, things take on an ECMish hue with a reworking of Richie Beirach's "The Elm."
For some extra seasoning, saxophonists Ralph Bowen and Sam Newsome sit in on one number apiece and then team up for the concluding Route 80 East, a rollicking jam that caps off a dazzling junior effort from Evans. While the "mixed bag" approach that comes with Evans' style may seem schizophrenic at times, there's also great promise in this pianist's forward-thinking stance and fans of piano trio jazz will find more than enough sustenance here to keep this disc in heavy rotation.
Track Listing: Rocking Chair, Firm Roots, That Old Feeling, The Elm, Bernie
Personnel: Orrin Evans- piano, Rodney Whitaker- bass, Ralph Peterson- drums, Ralph Bowen- alto and tenor sax (tracks 7 & 9 only), Sam Newsome- soprano sax (tracks 8 & 9 only)