The Intangible Between (Smoke Sessions Records)
Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band
Released May 1, 2020
Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2021
If it takes a village to raise a child, as the proverb says, then it certainly takes at least that much to nurture a big band. Pianist and bandleader Orrin Evans has long used “The Village” to refer not only to his family-like cohort of fellow musicians in the Captain Black Big Band, but also to the extended family of fans, supporters and inspirations that have carried the ensemble to a Grammy nomination and its status as one of the most thrilling and revered ensembles in modern jazz.
Featuring both taut, keenly focused ensemble playing and raucous, spirited soloing, The Intangible Between reflects the ever-growing chemistry of the core ensemble while celebrating bandleader Evans’ open-door policy toward collaborators new and old. The rotating cast of players, while maintaining the more compact scale introduced on the band’s last album, the Grammy-nominated Presence, also features first-time members alongside veterans that joined the ranks in its earliest days and special guests whose collaborations with Evans stretch back over many years and diverse groups.
From trumpeter Sean Jones, with whom Evans has played for well over a decade, and Eric Revis to bassist Dylan Reis, a young bass protégé, to bandmates making strides in the jazz scene after being nurtured by Evans early in their career in Philly and beyond – drummers Anwar Marshall and Mark Whitfield Jr., saxophonists Immanuel Wilkins, Troy Roberts and Caleb Wheeler Curtis, and bassist Luques Curtis, among others – The Village speaks with a loud, unified and infectious voice throughout The Intangible Between.
The title, according to Evans, refers to an elusive decision point, that sense of stepping off a ledge into the unknown that comes with taking risks and setting a new course. With the overdue success he’s achieved in recent years – topping the “Rising Star” category for pianists in the DownBeat critics poll, garnering his first New York Times feature, the awards and praise garlanding his Captain Black albums, the increased focus that accompanied joining The Bad Plus – has come both opportunities and disappointments.
“This record is just about going for it, taking those projects you’ve been dreaming about and just making them happen,” he says. “The industry constantly tells you to wait, but for how long? Why not just do it now?”
In part, that impetus was fueled by Evan’s career trajectory, but he was also compelled by the sobering loss of two of his peers: trumpeter Roy Hargrove and drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers, both of whom are paid tribute on The Intangible Between. “There are things that I wished I had said to both of them,” Evans reflects. “Nothing major, just the little things that you think you’ll be able to say the next time you see someone. But you just don’t know. You really have to deal with the intangible, the space between whether you’re going to do something or not.”
Leathers receives a tender farewell from the full band on Evans’ own “I’m So Glad I Got To Know You,” written in the immediate aftermath of the drummer’s shocking and unexpected death. The band’s version of “Into Dawn,” arranged by trombonist David Gibson, is both a brilliant rendition of a gorgeous Hargrove composition and a typical piece of Orrin Evans audaciousness.
Gibson, Lawrence, Bashore and trombonist Stafford Hunter have all been key lieutenants in the big band from its early days, supplying arrangements or, in Evans’ words, “being all-around partners in crimes and filling in the blanks whenever there are any.”
Gibson attributes the band’s growth and success to “the paternal spirit that inspired its birth. Orrin has created an environment that encourages all to take risks in pursuit of spontaneous and authentic musical conversations. He cajoles, inspires, and supports the group from behind the piano or in the dressing room. The company of musicians he’s invited to the party is comprised of those willing to participate in a grand trust exercise that I find to be very uncommon in a big band setting… Every musician is committed to supporting the pursuit of honest moments of music; our truth.”
The source of the term The Intangible Between is “Love Poem,” a short piece that Evans commissioned from John “Doc” Holiday, a retired teacher and mentor that the pianist met in a local Philadelphia watering hole. On Evans’ arrangement of Andrew Hill’s “Tough Love,” The Village’s recitation of that piece is paired with Evans’ own reading of “Yo! Bum Rushing the Door,” a poem by his brother Todd, aka Son of Black. Along with his original pieces “That Too” and “I’m So Glad I Got To Know You” and a version of “This Little Light of Mine” originally arranged for the WDR Big Band in Germany.
From trumpeter Sean Jones, with whom Evans has played for well over a decade, to bassist Dylan Reis, a young bass protégé, to bandmates making strides in the jazz scene after being nurtured by Evans early in their career in Philly and beyond – drummers Anwar Marshall and Mark Whitfield Jr., saxophonists Immanuel Wilkins, Troy Roberts and Caleb Wheeler Curtis, and bassist Luques Curtis, among others – The Village speaks with a loud, unified and infectious voice throughout The Intangible Between. “It really matters when you know you have a tight-knit circle, and that you can rely on your circle for whatever you need,” Evans says. “The Village is a unit of people that you can trust and that love you. It’s an open door to the possibilities of knowing that you’re part of something for the greater good.”
1. Proclaim Liberty (Josh Lawrence) 06:01
2. This Little Light of Mine (Harry Dixon Loes) 07:43
3. A Time for Love (Johnny Mandel / Paul Francis Webster) 06:24
4. That Too (Orrin Evans) 06:55
5. Off Minor (Thelonious Monk) 07:28
6. Into Dawn (Roy Hargrove) 07:56
7. Tough Love (Andrew Hill) 15:50
8. I’m So Glad I Got to Know You (Orrin Evans) 06:32
Orrin Evans: piano
Luques Curtis: bass
Eric Revis: bass
Madison Rast: bass
Mark Whitfield Jr.: drums
Anwar Marshall: drums
Thomas Marriott: trumpet
Josh Lawrence: trumpet
Sean Jones: trumpet
Caleb Wheeler Curtis: saxophone, alto
Troy Roberts: saxophone
Immanuel Wilkins: saxophone
Todd Bashore: saxophone, alto
David Gibson: trombone
Stafford Hunter: trombone
Reggie Watkins: trombone
Stacy Dillard: saxophone
Jason Brown: drums
Joseph Block: keyboards
Dylan Reis: bass
Recorded live October 1, 2019, at Sear Sound’s Studio C, New York City
Produced by Paul Stache and Damon Smith and
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Chris Allen
Mixed by Matthew Evans (7)
Photography by Jimmy & Dena Katz
Pianist Orrin Evans has a deep
understanding of the unshakeable bond between fellowship, humanity and the
creative process. That knowledge has guided him through creating a remarkable
catalog of music as both a leader and sideman, along the way, experiencing the
fellowship of a collective of musicians he often refers to as “The
The Village is indeed real, and most aptly expressed musically through the Captain Black Big Band, Evans’ ensemble of anywhere between nine and seventeen players. The band sports the interpretive elasticity of a post-bop quintet, while maintaining the elegance and sophistication of a more traditional orchestral jazz setting.
The band’s first two releases featured the full ensemble with a rotating cast of musicians with whom Evans has performed, and in many cases, mentored. For the third release, Presence (Smoke Sessions, 2018), Evans pared the band down to nine members, and took it on the road. The result was a Grammy nomination, and perhaps more importantly, a well deserved degree of respect and recognition of the leader’s remarkable legacy that now had spanned a quarter century.
In addition, Evans had taken on the piano chair of The Bad Plus in 2017 and the associated time commitment to touring and recording with them. The Village was growing ever larger, at times even reaching out west as far as Seattle.
For the fourth recorded effort of CBBB, the studio at Sear Sound more resembled a family gathering, with Evans setting the vibe with food and fellowship. The warm embrace of the atmosphere was the norm when the band gathered, and this was to be no exception. Evans entered the fray with a well defined plan down to the individual musician, laid it out, and then let spontaneity take over. The approach led to many unexpected detours from the trail blazed by the leader, which of course, would be the objective. With The Intangible Between (Smoke Sessions, 2020), CBBB has found true footing in originality.
On the session are players with whom Evans has played for many years, such as trumpeter Sean Jones and bassist Eric Revis, as well as newcomers such as young bassist Dylan Reis. There are bandmates that have been mentored by Evans in Philadelphia and beyond, such as bassist Luques Curtis, trumpeters Josh Lawrence and Thomas Marriott, saxophonists Caleb Wheeler Curtis and Troy Roberts, and drummers Anwar Marshall and Mark Whitfield. No matter the specific players on each track, there is a unity and intuitive sense expressed throughout. Each contributor seems to have a fearless inspiration to create individually to benefit the full collective of sound. This is expressed plainly in the title of the album itself, referring to a jumping off point into the unknown and taking on the risks that follow.
The band’s first two albums featured Evans’ compositions arranged by other members of the band. The third featured the music of trombonist David Gibson, trumpeters Lawrence and John Raymond, and saxophonist Roberts. The new record for the first time features the arrangements of Evans himself, a different notion altogether.
The opening salvo, “Proclaim Liberty,” and Evan’s arrangement of “This Little Light of Mine” opens the listener’s ears to the possibilities, featuring fleet, imaginative orchestral sketches and fluid soloing, most notably from Evans himself. Alto Saxophonist Todd Bashore’s arrangement of “A Time For Love” features elegant soloing from Jones on flugelhorn. Bashore kicks in along with soprano saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins for the more adventurous “That Too,” the tune opening up the portal to what is to come.
frenetic arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor” features
fourteen players, including four bassists and two drummers.
Evans’ Tarbaby band mate Revis makes his CBBB debut. Lawrence
seems to view the piece, and Monk himself, as a wormhole leading from bebop to
the great unknown, with marvelous results.
Evans’ arrangement of Andrew Hill’s, “Tough Love” is joined with poetry, with Evans playing, conducting and reciting. The source of the album’s title is “Love Poem,” a piece commissioned by Evans from John “Doc” Holiday, whom Evans met in Philly. The piece is recited by friends and loved ones, while Evans himself recites “Yo! Bum Rushing the Door,” written by his brother Todd Evans, aka Son of Black. This is not a new notion for Evans, having recited Donald Brown’s “A Free Man,” on his 2014 release, Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions, 2014). Evans festoons the piece with heavy handed harmony while expressing as the voice of love, the mantra to “wake up unity, stir up charity, sober up justice.” The layered effect is in a sense seamless, while at the same time darting in many directions. The message is clear, and essential. The joining of Hill’s masterpiece with Evans’ brilliant recitation is brilliantly powerful.
The Gibson arrangement of Roy Hargrove’s lush “Into Dawn,” is a tribute to the late trumpeter who passed so suddenly in late 2018, marking the first of two very personal losses for the band. The tragic death of drummer Lawrence Leathers inspired Evans’ loving remembrance “I’m So Glad I Got to Know You.” The album ends with the vocal chant descending to a peaceful whisper.
Captain Black has always traveled to wonderful places on the shoulders of a community of insight and imput. This record is no exception. The band walks on the edge of traditional and free jazz, dipping into the waters of brilliant form and exuberant liberty. The Intangible Between is most certainly a transcendent listen.
Paul Rauch (All About Jazz)