[Dixielandjazz] A Big Band Theory

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Oct 1 10:16:46 PDT 2010

Not specifically OKOM except in its message. What band leader Orrin  
Evans does is mix older musicians like veteran jazz trombonist Frank  
Ku-umba Lacy with young players. Thus Lacy can pass on his experiences  
playing with jazz legends now dead,  to the kids. That's a heck of a  
lot more effective than pedagogy.

And, of course, those OKOMer among us who went to the Red Sea Jazz  
Festival with Tom Wiggins and St Gabriel in 2006 will never forget the  
humor and energy of Frank Lacy. Especially when he sat in with us a a  
swinging jam session in the hotel garden at 3 AM and helped us with a  
swinging rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown. Who says the far out guys  
don't play roots jazz too?

To see what Orrin Evans does, visit:


Listen especially to what Lacy is about starting at about the 1 minute  
and 5 second mark.

Steve Barbone

A Big Band Theory: The More Energy the Better


You’ve heard of the leadership crisis in America? Orrin Evans is not  
part of that problem. Running a jazz big band in 2010 involves skill  
in composing, arranging, conducting and scheduling; it also involves  
nerve, because a big band these days is naturally a kind of statement,  
a platform for adventuresome writing or maintaining a tradition. And  
it takes strength: musical and physical.

Mr. Evans, a pianist from Philadelphia in his mid-30s, is right for  
the job. Even when he performs in a trio or quartet, it can seem as if  
more people are needed to absorb his energy. Eighteen people — the  
size of his Captain Black Big Band at the Iridium Jazz Club on  
Wednesday night — is about right, though his playing could have rung  
out over a dozen more.

The band started last October, when it began a series of weekly shows  
at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, wrapping up in February; it  
recorded an album, yet to be released, at the end of the run. In the  
process, it used a mixture of local musicians and a few New Yorkers,  
including the trombonist Frank Lacy. (Through his various bands, Mr.  
Evans has introduced New York audiences to more young or overlooked  
Philadelphian jazz musicians than pretty much anyone else in the last  
10 years.)

Typically members switched off on various instruments, and Mr. Evans  
himself alternated between playing and conducting. During Wednesday’s  
show, that workshop or extended-family feeling prevailed. Three  
different pianists played in an hour and a quarter. But the music felt  
uniformly strong.

Mr. Evans comes out of a bruising, hard-swinging East-Coast jazz  
mainstream that probably started with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers  
during the 1950s and crystallized in the 1970s and ’80s: the bright  
and dense sound of records from that period by John Hicks, McCoy Tyner  
and Bobby Watson. The band’s tunes — on Wednesday, all were by Mr.  
Evans except for one, “Conservation,” by Mr. Watson — were sturdy  
constructions with continuous interaction from the rhythm players, and  
blasting lines from the horn sections; occasionally Mr. Evans, as  
conductor, ordered solos and sudden dropouts of all but a few  
instruments. It was graceful, hard-edged music, with a several  
soloists in particular standing out: the saxophonist Mark Gross, the  
bassist Luques Curtis, the trombonist David Gibson and the drummer  
Anwar Marshall.

Mr. Evans feints and bobs in his playing, splashing down a cluster of  
notes, sifting through a series of rich chords, then percussively  
scrambling a winnowed-down melodic line à la Thelonious Monk. But he  
never hides. He makes his playing jut out and repeat.

Twice, in “Here’s the Captain” and “The Sluice,” he played a small  
phrase over and over with one hand while the other proceeded in a more  
normal arc of gathering intensity. Both solos felt almost engineered  
to wind up the audience and the band; both did.

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list