Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Powerful Sounds

Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone Records) - Positive comments have been swirling for several years about this large aggregation.  Founded and led by pianist/composer Orrin Evans (and named for one of his pieces, which itself was named for his father's favorite pipe tobacco), the CBBB features musicians of all ages, many based in the Philadelphia, PA, area.  And, it's a "workshop" band in that everyone can bring in pieces and/or arrangements.

The music on the band's debut CD, recorded live on 3 separate evenings (1 in Philly at Chris' Jazz Cafe, 2 in New York City at the Jazz Gallery), is, at turns, raucous, provocative, attractive, shiny and without a dull moment.  The program blasts off right out of the chute with "The Art of War", a  piece by Evans' long-time employer, drummer Ralph Peterson. Powered by drummer Anwar Marshall and anchored by bassist Mike Boone, the piece features a incendiary solo from alto saxophonist Rob Landham atop a thunderous arrangement by Todd BashoreGianluca Renzi's "Here's The Captain" opesn with an impressionistic solo piano spot from Evans before moving into a medium tempo modal work. te composer, who also arranged the work, moves the theme around the brass section. Second time through, the reeds get the opening phrase before the brass take the melody once more.  Tenor saxophonist Victor North delivers a robust solo before Evans takes the spotlight for a swinging, riveting, spot.

Other highlights include "Captain Black" with finely textured solo from pianist Jim Holton and a boisterous "shoutout" by trombonist Stafford Hunter. Between those two solos, tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen goes on an engrossing journey filled with twists, turns, questions and resolution.  "Easy Now", also composed by Evans, starts off in stentorian fashion with the reeds and brass making a bold statement above the thunderous drum work of Gene JacksonTodd Marcus's arrangement moves the melody into a gospel feel - there is a fine measured solo from trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt followed by a more aggressive turn from baritone saxophonist Mark Allen. When the horns and reeds return at the climax of Allen's solo, one feels the temperature rise dramatically.  The CD closes with "Jena 6", Evans' piece dedicated to the 6 black teenagers from Louisiana convicted of beating a white teen after a series of racially inspired incidents in the town of Jena.  Originally recorded as a trio piece with Tarbaby, the leader's multi-sectioned work has an ominous tone, from pianist Neil Podgurski's unaccompanied opening to the melody line (that has shades of Charles Mingus throughout) to Jaleel Shaw's long and impassioned alto saxophone solo, delivered over shifting tempos created by drummer Donald Edwards and bassist Luques Curtis. There are moments during Shaw's journey where the squalling brass and thunderous drums express anger and rage - Shaw's unaccompanied cadenza that ends the piece is intense, indignant and without remorse. 

In the past several years, there have been a number of excellent large ensemble recordings, from Darcy James Argue's Secret Society to trombonist Alan Ferber's Nonet with strings to John Hollenbeck's 2 fine recordings to Charles Tolliver hearty organization (and more).  Orrin Evans and Captain Black Big Band's debut is the equal to all those, a powerful statement that brings together musicians, composers and arrangers of all ages to create music that rails against injustice, teaches us about cooperation and allows each one to raise his or her own voice above the "white noise" of daily existence.

For more information, go to www.posi-tone.com.

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