The pandemic brought with it a shift in sensibilities for many musicians as they navigated new and unfamiliar waters. There were pros and cons of all this activity, with many streaming events and weighty recording projects taking place. Few of the albums coming from that period speak with such authority and freshness as the set at hand. Pianist Evans assembled a trio with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Bill Stewart back in 2014 for a festival performance and hoped to reconvene in the studio eventually. It would not be until December of 2020 that Evans and company would manage to come together again and this time with the addition of alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins.
The opening gambit is a mash up between Stewart's "Mynah," which debuted on the drummer's 1997 Blue Note set Telepathy, and Mulgrew Miller's rollicking "The Eleventh Hour." Stewart's booming bass drum and shimmering ride kick it off as Wilkins declares his numerous skills with a weighty sound more akin to a tenor horn. Since his recent Blue Note debut as a leader, the saxophonist has been turning heads, and after hearing him on this recital, there's no doubt he's got a bright future ahead.
Evans' "Libra" is a sunny affirmation that moves along with a sprightly and downright funky beat. Even within that framework, Evans' opening statement breaks free in multiple directions, at times bordering on Cecil Taylor-ish abstraction. But what makes it all so inviting is the way he builds these statements with sagacious use of space and texture. At one point, Wilkins noodles back and forth with Evans, the pair creating a rumble that eventually melts away.
Wilkins gets to shine in the role of composer on his three originals. "The Poor Fisherman" is an out of tempo ode supported by Stewart's rumbling toms and the swishing sounds of his brushes. By contrast, "Levels" starts out with Wilkins' horn tossing off two-note riffs, which soon evolve into a full collective conversation with the others and in 5/4 mode no less. A great showcase for Wilkins all around, the medium swing of "Momma Loves" finds the alto man dwelling in the lower registers of his horn even as his storytelling lines slip into the higher registers on occasion.
Closing on a gentle note, Evans' ballad "Dave" is yet another great example of how well the piano and alto blend their voices to speak the melody as one. In fact, there is nary one suggestion of the typical head-solo-head routine, as Evans strives for a more organic approach throughout the entire set. With a track record together going back years and years, Archer and Stewart are integral to the success of this approach. The end results are one of Evans' best albums, and that is saying quite a lot.
Mynah; The Eleventh Hour; Libra; The Poor Fisherman; MAT-Matt; Levels; Momma Loves; Dave.
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