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Album Review

Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band: The Intangible Between


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Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band: The Intangible Between
Pianist Orrin Evans has a deep understanding of the unshakeable bond between fellowship, humanity and the creative process. That knowledge has guided him through creating a remarkable catalog of music as both a leader and sideman, along the way, experiencing the fellowship of a collective of musicians he often refers to as "The Village."

The Village is indeed real, and most aptly expressed musically through the Captain Black Big Band, Evans' ensemble of anywhere between nine and seventeen players. The band sports the interpretive elasticity of a post-bop quintet, while maintaining the elegance and sophistication of a more traditional orchestral jazz setting.

The band's first two releases featured the full ensemble with a rotating cast of musicians with whom Evans has performed, and in many cases, mentored. For the third release, Presence (Smoke Sessions, 2018), Evans pared the band down to nine members, and took it on the road. The result was a Grammy nomination, and perhaps more importantly, a well deserved degree of respect and recognition of the leader's remarkable legacy that now had spanned a quarter century.

In addition, Evans had taken on the piano chair of The Bad Plus in 2017 and the associated time commitment to touring and recording with them. The Village was growing ever larger, at times even reaching out west as far as Seattle.

For the fourth recorded effort of CBBB, the studio at Sear Sound more resembled a family gathering, with Evans setting the vibe with food and fellowship. The warm embrace of the atmosphere was the norm when the band gathered, and this was to be no exception. Evans entered the fray with a well defined plan down to the individual musician, laid it out, and then let spontaneity take over. The approach led to many unexpected detours from the trail blazed by the leader, which of course, would be the objective. With The Intangible Between (Smoke Sessions, 2020), CBBB has found true footing in originality.

On the session are players with whom Evans has played for many years, such as trumpeter Sean Jones and bassist Eric Revis, as well as newcomers such as young bassist Dylan Reis. There are bandmates that have been mentored by Evans in Philadelphia and beyond, such as bassist Luques Curtis, trumpeters Josh Lawrence and Thomas Marriott, saxophonists Caleb Wheeler Curtis and Troy Roberts, and drummers Anwar Marshall and Mark Whitfield. No matter the specific players on each track, there is a unity and intuitive sense expressed throughout. Each contributor seems to have a fearless inspiration to create individually to benefit the full collective of sound. This is expressed plainly in the title of the album itself, referring to a jumping off point into the unknown and taking on the risks that follow.

The band's first two albums featured Evans' compositions arranged by other members of the band. The third featured the music of trombonist David Gibson, trumpeters Lawrence and John Raymond, and saxophonist Roberts. The new record for the first time features the arrangements of Evans himself, a different notion altogether.

The opening salvo, "Proclaim Liberty," and Evan's arrangement of "This Little Light of Mine" opens the listener's ears to the possibilities, featuring fleet, imaginative orchestral sketches and fluid soloing, most notably from Evans himself. Alto Saxophonist Todd Bashore's arrangement of "A Time For Love" features elegant soloing from Jones on flugelhorn. Bashore kicks in along with soprano saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins for the more adventurous "That Too," the tune opening up the portal to what is to come.

Lawrence's mad, frenetic arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Off Minor" features fourteen players, including four bassists and two drummers. Evans' Tarbaby band mate Revis makes his CBBB debut. Lawrence seems to view the piece, and Monk himself, as a wormhole leading from bebop to the great unknown, with marvelous results.

Evans' arrangement of Andrew Hill's, "Tough Love" is joined with poetry, with Evans playing, conducting and reciting. The source of the album's title is "Love Poem," a piece commissioned by Evans from John "Doc" Holiday, whom Evans met in Philly. The piece is recited by friends and loved ones, while Evans himself recites "Yo! Bum Rushing the Door," written by his brother Todd Evans, aka Son of Black. This is not a new notion for Evans, having recited Donald Brown's "A Free Man," on his 2014 release, Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions, 2014). Evans festoons the piece with heavy handed harmony while expressing as the voice of love, the mantra to "wake up unity, stir up charity, sober up justice." The layered effect is in a sense seamless, while at the same time darting in many directions. The message is clear, and essential. The joining of Hill's masterpiece with Evans' brilliant recitation is brilliantly powerful.

The Gibson arrangement of Roy Hargrove's lush "Into Dawn," is a tribute to the late trumpeter who passed so suddenly in late 2018, marking the first of two very personal losses for the band. The tragic death of drummer Lawrence Leathers inspired Evans' loving remembrance "I'm So Glad I Got to Know You." The album ends with the vocal chant descending to a peaceful whisper.

Captain Black has always traveled to wonderful places on the shoulders of a community of insight and imput. This record is no exception. The band walks on the edge of traditional and free jazz, dipping into the waters of brilliant form and exuberant liberty. The Intangible Between is most certainly a transcendent listen.

Track Listing

Proclaim Liberty; This Little Light of Mine; A Time For Love; That Too; Off Minor; Into Dawn; Tough Love; Im So Glad I Got to Know You


Orrin Evans: piano; Luques Curtis: bass, acoustic; Eric Revis: bass; Madison Rast: bass; Mark Whitfield Jr.: drums; Anwar Marshall: drums; Thomas Marriott: trumpet; Josh Lawrence: trumpet; Sean Jones: trumpet; Caleb Wheeler Curtis: saxophone; Troy Roberts: saxophone; Immanuel Wilkins: saxophone, alto; Todd Bashore: saxophone; David Gibson: trombone; Stafford Hunter: trombone; Reggie Watkins: trombone; Stacy Dillard: saxophone; Jason Brown: drums; Joe Block: piano; Dylan Reis: bass.

Album information

Title: The Intangible Between | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Smoke Sessions Records

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