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Orrin Evans: The Red Door


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Orrin Evans: The Red Door
Orrin Evans released his debut album for quintet, "Justin Time," in 1996, at the age of 21. Over the next 25 years, Evans released over 20 albums in all shapes and sizes. From trio to standard ensembles to large bands and big bands, Evans' history included a ten-year stint as a member of the Mingus Big Band, leading to his formation of the Grammy-nominated Captain Black Big Band in 2009. Additionally, when pianist Ethan Iverson (who wrote the liner notes for the album) left The Bad Plus in 2018 after 17 years, Evans took over the piano chair for three years and two albums, before leaving to continue following his muse.

His release, The Red Door is a spiritual search for growth. Growing up in the Pentecostal church, Evans explains in the album liner notes, the color red came to signify the negative: think blood, sin, the temptation embodied in red light districts, all things infernal. "I've realized that along with red meaning 'warning' or 'stop,' it also represents so many beautiful things," he says. "Roses are red, and Valentine's hearts. We shouldn't see the negative history that comes along with the color. Instead, we need to allow ourselves the opportunity to walk inside and discover what is behind the red door."

The album's compositions document the trials and tribulations of daily life. It is about seeking and finding happiness and joy, only to be faced with doubt, fear and despair but eventually finding the way back to peace. Evans composed four of the songs here. There are six standards and pop tunes included along with two compositions from Geri Allen and Ralph Peterson. They all flow together to embrace the narrative.

The title track starts the album with a post-bop head which immediately turns to a simple, lovely melody. The track continues transitioning throughout, navigating daily life's positive and negative aspects. "Weezy" shows the Herbie Hancock influence on Evans' playing. Utilizing deep, dense chording along with a singular, angular attack, Evans allows Nicholas Payton on trumpet and Gary Thomas on flute to create their own path. Evans' solo here is masterful.

"Phoebe's Stroll" is performed by the trio of Evans with Robert Hurst on bass and Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums. The song is both pensive and exciting. "The Good Life" is the first standard to appear. Taken at a leisurely pace, Larry McKenna shines on tenor saxophone and Hurst provides a strong walking bass line before delivering a beautiful solo. Evans' versatility of style is evident here, playing both on and off the melody.

The album contains three vocals. First up is "Big Small." Jazzmeia Horn sings this slow blues, which is at times discordant and then rollicking. "Amazing Grace" is sung by the amazing Sy Smith who shows off her five-octave range in a stunning, celebratory manner. The arrangement here is slow, thoughtful and in a minor key. Finally, the Stevie Wonder song, "They Won't Go When I Go" from Fulfillingness' First Finale is sung by Alita Moses, with only Evans' piano as support. Played at a slow tempo, it focuses both on the lyrics and allows Evans to show his sense of space in his accompaniment. It is both sorrowful and joyful.

The album closes with "I Have The Feeling I've Been Here Before" by Roger Kellaway. It is performed by the trio and is a beautiful ballad which signifies the underlying hope the album proclaims. Orrin Evans' release, The Red Door, invites us into the next chapter of his personal, musical and spiritual journey.

Track Listing

Red Door; Weezy; Phoebe's Stroll; The Good Life; Big Small; Dexter's Tune; Amazing Grace; Feed The Fire; All The Things You Are; Smoke Rings; They Won't Go When I Go; I Have The Feeling I've Been Here Before.


Orrin Evans: piano; Robert Hurst: bass; Marvin "Smitty" Smith: drums; Gary Thomas: saxophone; Nicholas Payton: trumpet.

Additional Instrumentation

Nicholas Payton: trumpet (1, 2, 5, 10); Gary Thomas: tenor sax (1, 5, 10) flute (2); Robert Hurst: bass (1-3, 5-8, 10, 12); Marvin “Smitty” Smith: drums (1-3, 5-8, 10, 12); Wallace Roney: trumpet (9); Larry McKenna: tenor sax (4); Buster Williams: bass (4, 9); Jazzmela Horn: vocal (5); Sy Smith: vocal (7); Alita Moses: vocal (11).

Album information

Title: The Red Door | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Smoke Sessions Records

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