A TOP JAZZ RECORD OF 2014: Orrin Evans is a true jazz advocate. One of the busiest leaders on the scene, with more than 20 solo albums in his discography along with countless sideman appearances, Evans has a second-to-none work ethic in and around New York as well as his hometown of Philadelphia. An industrious musician with an impetuous streak (despite recognizing the economies of scale, he stated that he “can’t stand the trio format” in a July 2012 Village Voice interview), Evans thinks bigger, refusing to see limitations in presenting jazz or performing it. Pairing once again with Posi-Tone Records, Evans’ sophomore studio recording of his Captain Black Big Band is a particularly satisfying album that challenges the status quo. Leading a big band within today’s economic realities seems to defy reason, but Mother’s Touch marks a magnificent return of the CBBB and it scores in every way imaginable.
The album maintains swing at its core, a kind of groove-oriented center that gives it ballast and flow. Evans uses horns as the band’s primary voice, but closer listening reveals that as the primary composer, the pianist takes advantage of a larger canvas to create earthy textures and a spectrum of brassy color. Threading a groove throughout, the recording is reminiscent of the big band recordings of McCoy Tyner — there’s a cinematic thrill in the way that the rhythm section pairs with the horns. Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Anwar Marshall keep the music pulsating underneath surefire solos by Stacy Dillard and Marcus Strickland on both parts of the title track and again with tenorist Victor North on the gorgeous “Maestra.” First-rate drummer Ralph Peterson guests on “Explain It To Me,” a track with a swinging, churchy feel. Wholly modern and accessible, Mother’s Touch is among Evans’ finest recorded work. He maintains a decisive point of view (the tricky scales on “Prayer For Columbine” give it a meaningful heft) and that consistency makes Evans’ Captain Black Big Band the perfect introduction to his music. (9 tracks; 48 minutes) As of summer, 2015, you can catch CBBB every Monday night at Smoke Jazz Club in NYC.