The exclamation mark which adorns the cover of Peter Evans Quartet's debut and, quintupled, gives the title for the opening piece, has never been more appropriate. Watch out. This is a record not to be messed with. The band explodes out of the starting gate and rarely let up over the course of the fifty-five minute set.
This disc confirms the Firehouse 12 label's fast-developing reputation for left field offerings recorded in luminous sound which handsomely repay in-depth listening.
While Evans' compositions draw upon harmonic material lifted directly from standards, they betray just a ghostly resonance of their source. That distant familiarity is tempered by the pressurized settings in which searing improvisations vie for attention with the hyperactive rhythms. It's hard to better Evans' own description of the music from the liners: "These standards are open planes of interaction where traditional chord structures white noise bebop licks tape hiss and practice exercises are set in wild motion against one another. And indeed they are, to glorious effect.
Exalting in tricky thematic material which unfurls imperceptibly into improvisation, the trumpeter is all over this record,. One is conscious of the energy first and only later the technique underpinning it. Evans first served notice of his prodigious virtuosity on his solo debut, More Is More (Psi 2006), but here the bravura display is integral to the overall group sound. Evans belays a torrent of invention spiced with multiphonic overtones, trademark high pressure squeals and breathy distortions.
Though the irrepressible trumpet most frequently grabs the ears, this is ensemble music, with only the most fleeting a capella statements amid the dense soundscapes, anchored by bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Kevin Shea's all-encompassing rhythmic foundation. Blancarte's throbbing bass often provides the forward momentum, but his fleetness of finger is evidenced by frequent doubling with Evans on the involved heads. Guitarist Brandon Seabrook is central to this outing's distinctive sound, with his effects-laden fretwork switching from noisy, in-your-face textural display to smoldering single note runs, ringing chords and swirling drones.
The breakneck pace of "!!!!! reasserts itself at various points in the program, even in the supposed tranquility of the ballads. The spacious jazzy opening of the lengthy "Bodies and Souls (where not a trace of the near eponymous standard is detected) belies the combustive oratory to come. The highlight is the delightfully named "Frank Sinatra, where the knotty theme, set out in unison by bass and trumpet, is cushioned by lush guitar chords and cymbal washes, before an effervescent Evans holds sway. Later, an extended reverb-drenched passage by Seabrook segues into thrilling falsetto trills by intertwined guitar and trumpet, before a return to the head and an offbeat ending on a closing drone.
Although the thirteen seconds of guitar noise of "How Long and the gentle fragment of "Iris, which clocks in at less than a minute, seem to be throwaways, they in no way undermine this astonishing debut, chock full of ideas, executed with both precision and panache.