Label/Year: Smoke Sessions, 2016
Lineup - Orrin Evans: piano; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; Kevin Eubanks: guitar; Lucques Curtis: bass; Mark Whitfield, Jr.: drums. Guests: Caleb Curtis: saxophone; M’Balia Singley: vocals.
American jazz pianist Orrin Evans was born in New Jersey and is based in Philadelphia, where he perseveres and takes inspiration to compose his music. He usually probes other influences such as neo-soul and hip-hop and likes to test new lineups in order to make his music sound unique each time he records.
Thus, if in 2014 he gathered a quintet with a two-horn frontline to record Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions), in 2015 he opted for a stirring trio, featuring bassist Christian McBride and drummer Karriem Riggins, to bring The Evolution of Oneself (Smoke Sessions) into life.
His latest work, #knowingishalfthebattle, feels strongly contemporary as much in the title as in its pliable sonorities.
This time, Evans resolved to hire two expert guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks, in order to infuse extra color in his illustrated stories. Joining them here on a regular basis are the bassist Luques Curtis and the young drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr., while the guests Caleb Curtis and M’Balia Singley, saxophonist and vocalist, respectively, have sporadic appearances.
Maintaining his habit of incorporating both originals and covers, Evans’s pianism shows an underlying feel for groove and mood.
The one-minute title track is arranged with vocal samples, electronica, and a hip-hop beat. It gives us a distorted idea of the rest of the album, and “Calls”, composed by Carla Bley, contradicts it through a keen sense of swing. The tune starts with Evans’ voice and proceeds with adventurous solos by the guest saxophonist and the bandleader whose rhythmic discernment comes accompanied of a daring in/out melodic concept. Lastly, it's Eubanks who picks up at a moment where the bass-drums rhythmic flux is catching fire, magnifying it with tortuous statements.
Rosenwinkel outlines the melody of Kenny Baker’s “When Jen Came In”, a waltz with an appealing rhythmic accentuation that discloses a gradual holding back of tempo for the finale. It features fervent improvisations by Evans, whose line of action falls between Jarrett and Monk, and Rosenwinkel, who strikes again in “Chiara”, a lyrical ballad by pianist Curtis Clark, this time by adopting trippy guitar chops wrapped in flute-like effects.
Two of the most stirring tunes are Evans' creations and reveal his compositional skills and unreserved musical nature: “You Don't Need a License to Drive” is an uptempo groovy extravaganza where he and Eubanks go flip, while “Half the Battle” is cooked with the irresistible ingredients of master Rosenwinkel.
All this frenzy contrasts with Curtis’ atmospheric “Heavy Hangs the Head That Wears the Crown” and Evans’s “Zeni Bea”, a delicate piece named for the two-month-old daughter of Curtis and enriched with dulcet flute and vocals.
M'Balia Singley vocalizes a pair of songs: David Bowie’s “Kooks”, here dropped with a fancy groove, and “That’s All”, a product of the Great American Songbook.
Pumped up by motivational pulses and an elevated lyricism, #knowingishalfthebattle, is an impressive effort from a skilled pianist that deservedly claims for immediate attention.
02 – Calls ► 06 – You Don't Need a License to Drive ► 07 – Half the Battle