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Orrin Evans/The Band: Live at Widener University

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Live At Widener University, a two-disc set by The Band, led by pianist and educator Orrin Evans, exemplifies cohesiveness, and shows just how exciting jazz can be when a gathering of stellar musicians step up to the plate and knock it out of the park.

"Two Faces of Nasheet," composed by drummer Nasheet Waits' father, Freddie, opens with a straight-up theme, then quickly branches off into what Evans likes to call "structured confusion." Tenor man J.D. Allen, Waits and bassist Reid Anderson (of the Bad Plus) concoct a storm worthy of any alchemist. Soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome weaves a soulful Middle Eastern-laced solo, and the song ends with the subject himself, who articulates his experience through his measured but passionate drum solo. "Umoja" is painted on a spare but loving canvas. Waits drums with his hands, harkening back to the way the language of percussion is spoken in the Motherland, pounding away over Evans' beautifully stated melody and Anderson's excellent bass.

"J.D.'s Revenge" is a showcase for Allen, and the interaction between Allen, Anderson and Waits brings to mind the best of the Branford Marsalis trio, with Newsome adding another dazzling solo and Evans making parenthetical comments on the keyboard. "We Both Tried," the lone ballad, is a trio event with Evans setting an appropriately melancholy tone, then receding into the background with Waits, as Anderson lays down a tender pizzicato solo.

When the band played "WTC 911" the wound was still fresh, and the nation's grief was still a work in progress. The song's highlight is Newsome's dolorous, soaring and finally triumphant solo. "Autumn Leaves" is the showstopper, so thoroughly deconstructed the listener might think the arrangement was written by Jacques Derrida. The familiar theme appears in Evans' quicksilver opening statement like those "Drink Coca-Cola" ads stuck subliminally onto movie reels which operated between the threshholds of sight and consciousness. Anderson, Allen and Evans lay down serious law on their solos, and when Newsome steps up for his piece of the rock the tempo shifts into a nasty funk groove, which in turn evolves into a spiraling duet between Newsome and Waits.


Track Listing: 1. Two Faces of Nasheet 2. Umoja 3. JD's Revenge 4. We Both Tried 5. WTC 911 6. Autumn Leaves 7. We Fall Down

Personnel: Orrin Evans; JD Allen; Sam Newsome; Reid Anderson; Nasheet Waits.

Title: Live at Widener University | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Imani / 88 Keys Productions

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