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The Big Takeover Issue #94
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Orrin Evans - The Red Door (Smoke Sessions)

15 June 2023

Since leaving the Bad Plus a few years ago, pianist Orrin Evans has simply gone from strength to strength, putting his prodigious talent at the keyboard to the service of strong tunes and surrounding himself with top-flight backing musicians along the way. For this record, Evans assembled a band of jazz super-heroes, including trumpeter Nicholas Payton, saxophonist Gary Thomas, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, with some special guests popping up here and there. Evans puts the band through its paces like a ringmaster, directing the audience’s eye to this player or that as required, all the while keeping the flow moving with his own sparkling riffs and empathetic comping. Whether or not the band cooks like amphetaminized chefs, as on Ralph Peterson, Jr.’s Smoke Rings,” Geri Allen’s “Feed the Fire*, and his own title track, or smacking the cheeks of standards like “All the Things You Are” (guest starring late trumpeter Wallace Roney) and “I have the Feeling I’ve Been Here Before,” the musicians gracefully balance on the line between tight craft and loose self-expression. What’s impressive about Evans’ work as player, arranger, and composer is how he takes the bop values of the fifties and sixties – be-, hard, and post – and injects twenty-first century life into them. The cadences and atmosphere may seem like Blue Note 1965 at first pass (or the Young Lions movement of the eighties), but subsequent listens make it clear The Red Door couldn’t have been made any other time than the 2020s.