Occasionally, a debut album from a new artist arrives that so perfectly encapsulates the prevailing zeitgeist, it sounds like the visionary work of a seasoned veteran. The Peter Evans Quartet is such an album.
While Peter Evans' solo trumpet album, More is More (Psi, 2006) is technically the Oberlin University grad's debut recording, this quartet session is far more indicative of his wide-ranging artistry.
Evans is joined by a close-knit group of regular collaborators. Drummer Kevin Shea, of the experimental post-rock band Storm and Stress, also works with Evans in Moppa Elliott's radical be-bop revisionist band, Mostly Other People Do The Killing. Bassist Tom Blancarte is one-half of the energetic duo, Sparks, with Evans, while guitarist Brandon Seabrook (Naftule's Dream, Alex Kontorovich Quartet), has played with Evans in the nostalgic quartet, Imaginary Folk.
Evans' writing uses harmonic material found in the classic American Songbook as the basic foundation for dense, labyrinthine structures. Additional layers of counterpoint, notation, harmony and incidental noise yield an endlessly shifting set of interlocking patterns. Recognizable melodic vignettes drift in and out of focus as blasts of cacophonous frenzy and feverish group interplay obscure familiar themes and standard chord progressions, invoking a surreal refraction of tradition.
Interpreting multi-layered compositions with a combination of dazzling virtuosity and plucky élan, this crack ensemble balances boundless energy with knowing finesse. Continuously in flux, the quartet endlessly modulates between collective improvisation, intricate notated charts and individual solos with graceful verve.
Driving the ensemble with irrepressible vigor, Shea delivers the same ramshackle vitality and roiling propulsion as he did on Mostly Other People Do The Killing's Shamokin!!! (Hot Cup, 2007). Blancarte's stalwart bass acts as the group's harmonic anchor, an unshakeable pillar in a whirlwind of interactivity.
Demonstrating his academic proficiency with a soaring tone and keen phrasing, Evans shares a neo-classical sensibility with trumpeter Dave Douglas in his choice of divergent angles and jagged edges. But Evans is a far more unfettered stylist, incorporating brassy smears, buzzing howls and an endless array of overblown textures into his profuse narrative statements.
The perfect front-line partner for Evans, Seabrook unveils a correspondingly exploratory outlook, fully embracing the electronic capabilities of his instrument, veering from oscillating ambient drones to blistering white noise. Alternating between gauzy ethereal strumming, punctilious angular runs, scorching leads and shards of reverberating feedback, he shares a mercurial temperament with Evans that finds them in waggish accord.
Evans' knotty, dynamic writing offers a fractured, encyclopedic view of jazz history, moving effortlessly from time honored melodic motifs and euphonious lyricism to dizzying, frenetic improvisation. The Peter Evans Quartet is not only a definitive statement from a rising new voice, but one of the finest jazz records of the year.
Personnel: Peter Evans: trumpet; Brandon Seabrook: guitar and electronics; Tom Blancarte: bass; Kevin Shea: drums.