One sure-fire way for up-and-coming musicians to get attention is to convene an all star combo. Though Bay Area-based Filipino-American guitarist (and sometime AAJ scribe) Karl Evangelista follows that route on his fourth album Apura! he makes surprising but astute choices of bandmates by enlisting the services of legendary South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo and the British pair of veteran saxophonist Trevor Watts and rising star pianist Alexander Hawkins. As Evangelista explains in the liner notes, the music of early British-based outfits such as the Brotherhood Of Breath, The Blue Notes, Amalgam and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble has offered him much inspiration over the years.
Not that the fare on this double CD studio session, recorded in London in October 2018, especially resembles any of the aforementioned units. This first-time meeting results in 15 spontaneous collectives, spread over 115 minutes running time. They cover a wide range of territory from closely argued to sparse and fluttering, but reside firmly on the free jazz spectrum. Edgy and adventurous four-way interaction predominates. But, although there are few solos, there is ample space to appreciate the talents on display. Watts sits out five of the tracks, while Hawkins sits out two, the consequent trios offering variety and a change of pace.
Moholo's signature lack of bombast proves key to the date. Elemental like rain, his responsive, constantly-modulated patter and occasional sharp interjections mean that everyone can be heard in even the densest moments. On electric guitar Evangelista alternates a singing legato approach with jagged distortions. He shares an affinity with Watts for intense flurries of notes capped by long held tones, resulting in some wonderful juxtapositions with the reedman's snaking runs and impassioned cries. Hawkins pays particular attention to group cohesion, whether creating structure with repeated patterns or interweaving supportive textures from preparations, and excursions under the bonnet.
The connection between Watts and Evangelista reaches its apotheosis on "Resist," in a soaring conclusion to one of the most visceral pieces. It finds further expression on the extended trio cut "Harana," in which Moholo's intermittent drum scamper underpins a spirited guitar-alto dialogue which culminates in a coruscating passage of stratospheric dueling. On another highlight, "I Eat Death Threats For Breakfast," Hawkins delivers a masterclass in how to use a vamp in an improvised setting, without disappearing down a cul-de-sac, as well as an exuberant outing.
For those who haven't encountered him before, this splendid set serves as a striking calling card for Evangelista, while at the same time affirming the strength of the UK scene.
CD1: Apura!; Heto Buhay Pa; State Of Emergency; Utang Na Loob; Totoo Yan; Siyanga Pala; I Eat Death Threats For Breakfast; Resist; CD2: FDT; Harana; Refugee; Warriors; Player Piano; Balikbayan; Consummatum Est.
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