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Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band: Mother's Touch

Mark Corroto By

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Nobody does big bands these days. Nobody. Not without institutional support like a university or a foundation. Not unless you are Orrin Evans. The Philadelphia pianist writes and arranges music so appealing, a revolving cast of musicians can't resist playing his music. While we will never see an independent outfit like the Captain Black Big Band, which can swell to thirty plus musicians, touring for months on end, their occasional gigs and recordings are a godsend.

The studio recording Mother's Touch follows the self-titled Captain Black Big Band (Positone, 2011) recorded live in various locations in 2010. Where the previous was subject to the challenges of a live date, the separation of players, microphone placement, and the room's acoustics, none of those issues are present here. Plus, this session captures all the energy of a live date.

Credit the energy to Evans' arrangements. He dispenses the power of his big band in a judicious manner, often eschewing the elephantine nature of a large ensemble for just a few players. "Explain it to Me" glides upon Marcus Strickland's soprano saxophone and the drumming of Ralph Peterson with the ensemble supporting, but never overwhelming the affair.

The pianist is probably best known for his small group work, releasing much admired music on the Criss Cross and Posi-Tone labels. He is a post-bop player with roots in Gospel and percussive touch that oozes soul. The opening piece "In My Soul" best exemplifies this approach. He builds upon a blues theme, evoking the lateness of the soul/jazz hour with the velveted touch of a 1960s jazz band. Elsewhere, he invokes the spirit of Gil Evans music on "Dita" and the Wayne Shorter composition "Water Babies." The latter tune features a muted trumpet (a juicy rendition by Tatum Greenblatt) and trombone flourish. Both pieces weave a fine, delicate orchestration, one that doesn't encroach on the soloists.

He even steps away from his piano to conduct on the two parts of the title track, deferring to Zaccai Curtis. These two shortish pieces are mini-exercises in horn arranging and showcase his skills at marshaling a pool of talent. The disc ends with the punchy and powerful "Prayer For Columbine." Evans releases the full power of his big band, yet consistent with his approach, maintains a considerate and sympathetic approach.

Track Listing: In My Soul; Explain It To Me; Mother’s Touch Part I; Dita; Tickle; Maestra; Water Babies; Mother’s Touch Part II; Prayer For Columbine.

Personnel: Tanya Darby: trumpet; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet; Brian Kilpatrick: trumpet; Fabio Morgera: trumpet; Mark Allen: saxophone; Todd Bashore: saxophone; Dog Dehays: saxophone; Stacy Dillard: saxophone; Tim Green: saxophone; Victor North: saxophone; Marcus Strickland: saxophone; David Gibson: trombone; Conrad Herwig: trombone; Andy Hunter: trombone; Stafford Hunter: trombone; Brent White: trombone; Orrin Evans: piano; Zaccai Curtis: piano (3,8); Luques Curtis: bass; Anwar Marshall: drums; Ralph Peterson: drums (2). Additional arrangements by: Todd Bashore, Todd Marcus, David Gibson, and Gianluca Renzi.

Title: Mother's Touch | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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