With the release of Soul Insider, saxophonist Bill Evans lays his own claim to the funk and groove that seems to be linear descendants from the work that Eddie Harris and Les McCann did in the 1960’s. Lest anyone mistake Evans’ intentions and the derivation of the music he honors, McCann contributes the vocals to two of the songs for which he wrote the lyrics, “Lose My Number” and “You Sure Look Good To Me.” While Evans wrote all of the tunes, McCann, whose stroke still prevents him from the use of both hands on piano, wrote the lyrics with his typical approach involving good humor and flirtatiousness. Like, “Come out of the kitchen, put down the frying pan, Don’t undress in the dark, I want to see everything I can.”
But those vocals occur on just two of the tracks. Even those McCann’s presence is a surprising highlight of the CD, Evans has unified the concept of the funk album so that the real unifying presence, beyond his own sax work, is the groove. Like some of John Scofield’s recent jazz jam recordings, Evans has established a consistent feel throughout Soul Insider, even as some of the sidemen are substituted and even as Evans switches from, say, tenor sax to soprano to achieve the effects he seeks.
Evans’ searching solo in the middle of “Lose My Number,” creating an ethereal effect like that of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” contrasts with his gravely, deep-voiced bottom lines on “Big Mama,” mixed to include his work on vocoder as well.
Indeed, Scofield shows up on “Gimme Some” and “Thump,” and Evans’ group falls seamlessly into the instantly identifiable groove that Scofield claims. Joining the tradition of saxophonists who worked with Scofieldlike Joe Lovano or Eddie Harris himself, not to mention soul saxophonists like Maceo ParkerEvans, in spite of his versatility from previous work with John McLaughlin and Miles Davis, definitely enjoyed making this album, as obviously did all of the other participants. The infectiousness of the music is eminently danceable, from the shuffle rhythm of the final track to the groove joining the serpentine lines of “Vans Joint,” not to mention those of the next track, “Cool Eddie,” as well.
Soul Insider can’t be adequately reviewed without mentioning the cohesion of the back-up group as well, from Steve Jordan’s on-the-mark drumming, reminiscent of an Idris Muhammad beat, to Ricky Peterson’s B-3 accents akin to Don Patterson’s soulful recordings with Harris.
A totally enjoyable album, Evans no doubt will be joining the ranks of the touring musicians this summer who ignite the jazz festivals with those special moments that the attendees remember for years, as legions still remember McCann’s and Harris’s legendary performance at Montreux.
Track Listing: Vans Joint, Cool Eddie, Lose My Number, Cheeks, You Sure Look Good To Me, Big Mama, Sneaky, Gimme Some, Older Days, Thump, The Shorty Shuffle
Personnel: Bill Evans, soprano, alto, tenor & baritone sax, vocoder; Ricky Peterson, piano, B-3 organ; Dean Brown, John Scofield, guitar; James Genus, Tim Lefebvre, bass; Steve Jordan, drums; Don Alias, percussion; Les McCann, vocals; Vaneese Thomas, background vocals.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.