"...It Was Beauty" is Evans's 20th (!) CD as a leader and first for the Criss Cross label since February 2005. Featuring his partner from Tarbaby, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Donald Edwards, who is featured on Evans' last CD for PosiTone Records, "Flip The Script", Evans opens up the concept for this program by featuring guest bassists on 4 of the 10 tracks. Ben Wolfe, who also is featured on the PosiTone release, joins the trio for 2 tracks ("African Song" and "Commitment") while Hartford, CT. native Luques Curtis and Alex Claffy appear on one each ("Dorm Life" and "My Tribute" respectively.) Anyone who follows Orrin Evans knows he has a far-ranging mind and no fear as well as an eclectic taste in material - that's why his recordings are so interesting. Bill McHenry's "African Song" has the feel of a John Coltrane piece, open-ended with the 2 bassists moving independently of each other. Wolfe also enlivens "Commitment", a song that has several changes in tempo and direction - when both bassists start "walking", the drummer steps right in to keep the pace fluid. Edwards' dancing "second-line" drums sets the funky pace for a Trio joyful "jump blues" reading of Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation." This is the 4th time Evans has recorded "Dorm Life" for a Criss Cross release and, of course, the 4th different reading. Curtis's bass locks in with Revis's, allowing Edwards to really drive the piece. The various changes of pace are, on first listen, are as much fun for the listener as they must have been for the musicians. Wolfe composed (but does not appear on) "Hats Off To Rebay", a bluesy meditation dedicated to Revis but featuring splendid brush work from Edwards.
This is one pianist who knows how to do "slow" as one hears on the Trio reading of Hoagy Carmichael's "Rockin' Chair", a tune which Evans as a solo piece in 1998. The deliberate pace of the song allows the melody to emerge easily - Revis plays few notes while Edwards caresses the drum kit with his brushes. The CD closes with Evans in duo with the young Philadelphia bassist Alex Claffy on a slow and heartfelt reading of Andre Crouch's "My Tribute." The ballads rarely stray from the melody yet never sound hackneyed or trite. Make sure to pay attention to the work of the rhythm section - they shy away from convention but neither sound superfluous nor radical.
"...It Was Beauty" is good music from beginning to end; creative, interactive, urgent, un-rushed and highly original, Orrin Evans illustrates how he has matured without surrendering his sense of adventure. For more information, go to www.orrinevansmusic.com.
The Trio signed with Hipnotic Records and their initial release for the label is "The Ballad of Sam Langford." Langford (1883-1956), a Black boxer who hailed from Nova Scotia and settled in Massachusetts, was known as "the Boston Tar Baby" - he fought at a time when few Black boxers were allowed in the ring to fight Caucasian pugilists and was not well known outside of boxing circles. (If you are curious, do go to coxscorner.tripod.com/langford.html for more information.) The CD opens with "Title Bout (Opening Round") and closes with "Title Bout (Final Round"), both group improvisations, the only references to boxing. Oliver Lake is back, appearing on 6 tracks and young trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire appears on 7 cuts. The blend of saxophone and trumpet spar on the opening track over a rubato background, Waits' rampaging drums pushing the other musicians forward. Lake, now 70 years old, is in fine fettle throughout. His combination of short phrases and long tones on his composition "Aztec" leads the band into a freer interaction (but not chaos.) Evans "When" is a slow ballad in which the melody is introduced by the alto sax and trumpet. As the piece unfolds, the short solos (Evans and Lake) display an emotional gravitas that turns the title into a question that one may feel is resolved in the gentle fade.
3 tracks into the program and you know this is music that respects the traditions of Black American Music, those of experimentation, of social commentary, of gathering disparate voices and giving them their say. The insistent "swing" of Revis and Waits is at the core of Evans' "MBBS", giving Evans, Lake and Akinmusire the foundation to explore and interact. "Rolling Vamp" is a funky piece from Lake built off a repeating bass line and propulsive drums - the melody line hearkens back to the work of the mid-1960s "classic" Miles Davis Quintet. The soloists respond to the drummer's egging them on which only adds to the intensity level. The piece slowly comes back down until it's just the wonderful bass line.
Akinmusire shines on Waits' "Korean Bounce", engaging in a lively give-and-take with the drummer while Evans and Revis provide support and counterpoint. The trumpeter contributes the lovely ballad "Asiam", a piece for trumpet and piano. One is drawn in to his breathy sounds, to the gospel inflections of the piano accompaniment and to how time seems to stand still as you listen.
The pianist's son Matthew joins the trio on finger piano (kalimba) for Revis's atmospheric "August" - Waits plays recorder as he keeps the beat on bass drum, high-hat and occasional cymbal splashes. The bassist quietly yet insistently supplies both the structure and rhythm for the song.
Over the course of 3 CDs, Tarbaby has shown that their music has few, if any, boundaries; one would imagine this music is even more explosive, more interactive and far-ranging in a concert or club setting. Even as the final notes fade, one is drawn back to this inventive and enlightening music. "The Ballad of Sam Langford" makes you think, makes you sweat and, if you love creative Black Music, makes you smile. You can discover more about the Trio by going to any and all of the band-member's individual websites at www.ericrevis.com, www.nasheetwaits.com or www.orrinevansmusic.com. Like minds, indeed!
Soon to follow is the group's "Fanon", a musical tribute to the French-Algerian psychiatrist/revolutionary writer Frantz Fanon, whose best-known work "The Wretched of the Earth" was published the year he passed away (1961). Tarbaby's project features the Trio with Oliver Lake and guitarist Marc Ducret - you can see and hear excerpts by going to www.youtube.com/watch?v=fP3nstudK6E.