Orrin Evans/ Captain Black Big Band – Posi-Tone Records PR8078, 59:54 ****:
(Artists include: Orrin Evans – piano; Tatum Greenblatt, Brian Kilpatrick, Walter White, Jack Walrath – trumpets; Mark Allen, Ralph Bowen, Wayne Escoffery, Tia Fuller, Rob Landham, Victor North, Jaleel Shaw, Tim Warfield – saxophones; Stafford Hunter, Frank Lacy, Brent White – trombones; Todd Marcus – bass clarinet; Luques Curtis – doublebass; Anwar Marshall, Gene Jackson, Donald Edwards – drums; Musical Direction – Orrin Evans)
Orrin Evans, pianist extraordinaire, seems to be everywhere lately. Whether it is leading his own group on recordings (Faith in Action) or backing other artists including Posi-Tone’s own Ralph Bowen on Power Play, Evans has become a major player in contemporary jazz. Orrin’s piano skills have been recognized and now it is time to catch him as a big band leader on Captain Black Big Band. Captain Black was the title of his 1998 Criss Cross label CD, which introduced the composition of the same name.
In February and April 2010, Orrin took Captain Black on the road as a big band to Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia as well as The Jazz Gallery in New York. They recorded seven compositions that highlight both his compositional skills and arranging talents. Orrin composed or arranged four out of the seven tracks. Bandmates in the sax section are well known, while the brass section includes Walter White, Brian Kilpatrick, Jack Walrath, Stafford Hunter and Frank Lacy.
What is most obvious on this live recording is the infectious joy that this band brings to the stage. You can sense the fun and camaraderie. I compare them in this sense to the present Mingus Big Band and that is quite a compliment as that group has been together for quite some time. The comparison is apt as Orrin and mates have a similar swagger, and while occasionally pushing the envelope towards open free playing they retain a sense of swing and the compositional melodies have memorable hooks that keep the listener along for the ride.
On “Here’s the Captain” Evans intro sets the stage for a heavily swinging vibrant musical stew. Victor North’s tenor solo drives the track while Gene Jackson on drums shows cymbal mastery.
Todd Marcus’ “Inheritance” is intriguing as Marcus on bass clarinet and trumpeter Walter White both shine. The bass clarinet adds a mysterious vibe with its Middle Eastern tone.
Walter White is again featured on “Big Jimmy” and his power and strut on trumpet is impressive. Orrin’s’ label mate and cohort Ralph Bowen gets ample solo time on both this track as well as on the title cut. The band’s ensemble talents shine on “Captain Black” and they can show a polished sheen that normally takes much longer to develop in a big band.
“Easy Now” belies its title as its majestic theme reaches crescendos that are orchestral in nature. It then changes mood as Tatum Greenblatt’s trumpet solo takes it in a lyrical direction, followed by some cacophony that turns into a blues. It was my favorite track on the CD.
“Jena 6” begins with a classical sounding piano solo by Neal Podgurski followed by a somber funereal stretch from the horns before Jaleel Shaw’s alto solo goes off for an extended stretch as the energy reaches a breaking point as Jaleel takes the track out frantically. What a wild ride…
TrackList: Art of War, Here’s the Captain, Inheritance, Big Jimmy, Captain black, Easy Now, Jena 6
— Jeff Krow