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Pianist Orrin Evans has piloted his Captain Black Big Band (CBBB) through 10 years of gigs and three previous recordings. Their 2018 release, Presence, received a Grammy nomination.
For The Intangible Between, Evans invited “The Village” — his term for musician friends and supporters — to the studio for a relaxed day of music making. Libations and barbecue were served, and guest musicians in attendance were invited to join in the recording. The results, including three originals and five established tunes (e.g., Monk’s “Off Minor,” Andrew Hill’s “Tough Love”) are nothing short of exquisite. While the CBBB does not necessarily break new ground, it delivers fluid, soloist-oriented arrangements of artfully conceived tunes, courtesy of the cream of New York musicians.
One standout track, Johnny Mandel’s standard ballad “A Time for Love,” was arranged by saxophonist Todd Bashore. Following a short intro, Sean Jones’ gorgeous flugelhorn plays three-quarters of the tune backed only by piano, Fender Rhodes, bass and drums. His impressive improv and finishing cadenza are a study in tasteful bravado.
Josh Lawrence’s up-tempo “Proclaim Liberty” is indicative of the band’s loosely organized approach. Following a brass fanfare intro and statement of the tune’s melody comes Lawrence’s beautifully realized trumpet solo. A full-ensemble interlude follows, with Immanuel Wilkins’ lengthy, aggressive alto improvisation organically winding down in intensity. The rhythm section softens with the soloist and then, surprisingly, the tune abruptly ends. It’s likely that this ending was unplanned, as a grandiose finish with big, fat chords would have seemed more appropriate. But this is jazz, and the CBBB shows that surprises are always possible, especially when a highly elastic big band is led by a freedom-loving pianist. — James Rozzi