Climbing the Gates Album Features Improx Trio: Falkner Evans, Cecil McBee & Matt Wilson


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New York jazz pianist Falkner Evans loves the purity of the traditional jazz trio, so he once again joins forces with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Matt Wilson on the second Falkner Evans Trio album, Climbing the Gates, that features what Evans calls “complex structures with discernible melodies laid over the top, and lots of improvisation."

Evans says, “The beauty of the trio is that the pianist gets to lead and control the harmonies, but there also is the group interplay that can inspire each of us in our improvisation and push the music to greater heights. Sometimes one of us will solo while the other two hold down the rhythm, but often Cecil and I will solo at the same time. It really gets dangerous, but exciting, when all three of us improvise at once. I truly appreciate the collective improvisation of the entire trio and the dialogue we are trying to achieve."

Climbing the Gates (on CAP Records) can be purchased online at webstores such as amazon.com and cdbaby.com, and at digital download sites including iTunes, Rhapsody and others. For more information on Evans, go to the label's website at jazzbeat.com.

“I'm very interested in complex tunes that sound simple," explains Falkner. “The complexity can come in the chord progressions, harmonic movement or tempo changes, but then I like to superimpose a straight- forward melody or some dynamic improv over it. The main thing is to make sure the piece doesn't sound like it is just an arranging or composing exercise, but that it has some component that hits home with the listener and brings them back for more. I want the music to be enjoyable on the first listen, but to open up and show its depth upon repeated playings."

Originally from Oklahoma, Evans is best known in New York City as a jazz pianist even though he comes from an eclectic musical background. Falkner's interest in music took off in grade school when he heard an early Beatles single. He began playing drums in fifth grade and started a group, The Mustangs, the next year. They became so popular because of their young ages, they were even hired to open for Conway Twitty. In tenth grade Falkner switched to playing piano and formed The Spring River Band that performed material by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and The Band. But in high school Evans also began listening to jazz like John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Miles Davis.

After high school, Evans joined one of Tulsa's most popular bands, Friends, that performed five nights a week doing material by acts such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Evans then started his own group, the Edge Band, to play less pop-oriented material (Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter). The group evolved into Essence which at first played soul and jazz-funk, before becoming a straight jazz band (the city's top group performing jazz). Playing music by Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Essence opened shows for Pat Metheny, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, and Stan Kenton. Essence played five nights a week at the Nine o' Cups jazz club. Sometimes Falkner's friend Jamie Oldaker (Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Stephen Stills) filled in on drums. Jazz acts traveling through Tulsa often stopped in (Bill Evans caught a set) and sometimes sat in (Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Milt Jackson). For several weeks each year, Falkner would travel to New York City to take piano instruction from Dan Hurley and to catch top jazz acts there ("Kenny Barron and Stanley Cowell were big influences when I saw them").

In the early eighties Falkner got the call to join the country's top western swing band Asleep At the Wheel. He stayed with the band for four years of national touring, two albums and appearances on television. The group performed in major venues from coast-to-coast including the Bottom Line in New York City and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. One notable concert was at the closing night of the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin on New Year's Eve with Commander Cody (Lost Planet Airmen) and Maryann Price (Dan Hicks, The Kinks) sitting in.

Evans moved to New York City in 1985 and looked up Cecil McBee, whom he had first met in Tulsa. This connection led to a working relationship with Cecil on numerous performances around the city. One gig Evans recalls took place at the Sweet Basil club after he had only been in town a few days. “I was asked to sit in with Cecil's group featuring Chico Freeman and Billy Hart. It was quite an introduction to New York." In the mid-Nineties, Evans became enthralled with Brazilian music by artists such as Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins and Antonio Carlos Jobim, so Falkner put together a band in that genre that performed at Birdland several times a year. This Latin-jazz band which also went into the studio to record, at times included guitarist Romero Lubambo (Herbie Mann, Grover Washington Jr.) and drummer Portinho (Paquito D'Rivera). It was during this creative period that Evans started writing his own compositions, which is appropriate because Falkner shares his first name with the last name of his third cousin, the famous novelist William Faulkner (whose publisher added the “u" to his last name). In addition. Evans has studied with jazz pianists Joanne Brackeen (Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz) and Mike Longo (longtime music director for Dizzy Gillespie). Falkner credits Bill Evans as one of his biggest influences, but also has pulled inspiration from Keith Jarrett, Billy Strayhorn, Kenny Barron and Dave McKenna.

Falkner debuted his trio on disc with the CD Level Playing Field, which also featured several original compositions. The album received strong reviews from national magazines such as Cadence which said, “Evans is an expressive pianist who shows fine composing skills to complement his melodic playing style. In an unassuming way, he makes a convincing statement ... He plays with a warm, lyrical touch, displaying a wholesome approach to improvising within the structure of the song." In addition, All About Jazz stated, “This is one of the best piano trios I've heard in a while and is highly recommended."

Evans' trio colleagues on both Climbing the Gates as well as his debut CD are both recording artists themselves with numerous albums as band-leaders. Cecil McBee is one of the masters of jazz bass and has played with Dinah Washington, Sam Rivers, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Pharoah Sanders, Art Pepper, McCoy Tyner and many others. Matt Wilson has spent the past decade as one of the more creative drummers on the jazz scene having played with Dewey Redman, Lee Konitz, Fred Hersch, Janis Siegel, Dave Liebman, Charlie Haden and Curtis Stigers, among others. The Falkner Evans Trio has a special connection beyond music - Evans and McBee are both natives of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Wilson (who spent time in the Midwest including attendance at Wichita State University) has Tulsa ties because his wife is from there. “What I like about working with Cecil and Matt is that they are so creative that no matter how many rehearsals we have, I never know exactly what they are going to do next. They play very free, which is exciting."

Both of the Falkner Evans Trio CDs were recorded in the studio live-to-two-track with no overdubbing, additional mixing or effects added. “Our goal is to present a real acoustic sound, a pure experience with nothing between our music and the listener," Falkner says. Although each tune has a solid framework for the listener to hang on to, there is plenty of soloing by all three musicians. Climbing the Gates contains five compositions penned by Evans (including the uptempo title tune, the Miles Davis-inspired “Talking Rocks" and the complex tempo-shifting “Feel Free"). The trio also presents inspired covers of Thelonious Monk's “Ask me Now," Rogers & Hart's romantic ballad “Easy To Remember" and Milton Nascimento's lengthy-jam “October." Falkner shows another side to his playing with one solo piano piece on the album, the melancholy “I'm Through With Love" (he decided to develop his own arrangement after hearing Keith Jarrett's version).

“It's very easy to be imitative in music, and very difficult to develop your own style," explains Evans. “All we can ever hope for is to absorb many different influences as we go along, and finally distill those down into our own playing so that what we create has a fresh feeling. As an artist you have to do what feels right, but you know it when you have it."

This story appears courtesy of Creative Service Company.
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