The Magic of Now (Smoke Sessions Records)

Orrin Evans

Released July 23, 2021

Jazz Music Award for Best Mainstream Album 2022




Orrin Evans’ The Magic of Now, the 20th of the 46-year-old pianist-composer’s luminous career and recorded in the midst of the upheavals set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic, this latest document of Evans’ kaleidoscopic artistic journey coincides with several self-generated sea changes in his life. Perhaps the most significant change being his decision to leave the popular trio The Bad Plus after three productive years in order to refocus his time and energy on his own multiple musical projects.

“People have had to make adjustments and be reborn to a certain extent,” Evans says by way of explaining the title. “We’re past the point where we didn’t know what was going on or what the future would look like. Now we’re settling into what our ‘new normal’ will be, embracing the magic of now and the shape of what will happen next.”

The Magic of Now finds Orrin Evans in exquisite form leading a multi-generational cohort of A-list partners – first-call New York bassist Vicente Archer; iconic drummer Bill Stewart; and the dynamic 23-year-old alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. From the first note to the last, the quartet, convening as a unit for the first time, displays the cohesion and creative confidence of old friends. Together, they apply their collective mojo to three Evans originals, three heretofore unrecorded Wilkins songs, and a two-song opening medley featuring music by Stewart and the late great pianist Mulgrew Miller generating an eight-piece program that exemplifies state-of-the-art modern jazz. “I love the sound of the piano and drums on this record – and I love the sound at Smoke,” Evans says of The Magic of Now. “I love the energy – so close, so intimate. That has a lot to do with how much I enjoy playing music there.”

Track Listing:

1. Mynah/The Eleventh Hour (Mulgrew Miller / Bill Stewart) 13:48

2. Libra (Orrin Evans) 05:54

3. The Poor Fisherman (Immanuel Wilkins) 08:21

4. Mat-Matt (Orrin Evans) 08:04

5. Levels (Immanuel Wilkins) 09:05

6. Momma Loves (Immanuel Wilkins) 08:42

7. Dave (Orrin Evans) 03:43


Immanuel Wilkins: alto saxophone
Orrin Evans: piano
Vicente Archer: bass
Bill Stewart: drums

Recorded December 11 & 12, 2020, at SMOKE, New York City
Produced by Paul Stache
Associate Producer: Damon Smith
Recorded & Mixed by Edwin Huet, Tyler McDiarmid & Paul Stache,
Mastered by Christopher Allen
Production Support by Jason Fifield
Photography by John Rogers
Design by Damon Smith
Executive Producers: Paul Stache & Molly Johnson


Timing is everything, the old masters teach. So pianist/composer/bandleader Orrin Evans drops the brazen The Magic of Now just in time. Just in time for the world to open up, renew its commitment, and move forward. Just in time for all to engage in those necessary conversations about civil upkeep. Put plainly, The Magic of Now is the music to lead the charge.
A whirlwind of perpetual buoyancy and boundless risk aversion, the eight easeful dances defining The Magic of Now finds Evans reuniting with bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Bill Stewart, and former music camp student, 23-year-old powerhouse alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins for some seriously spirited interaction. Evans (who recently gave notice to The Bad Plus) and company play it full tilt and then some.
Righteous, rowdy, and riotous, joy abounds as the quartet, led by Archer and Stewart, slyly open Stewart’s “Mynah” from Telepathy (Blue Note, 1997) and it immediately becomes palpable that these guys are very glad, very effin’ glad, to be playing together. To be being together: Wilkins’ ascending, Evans comping, and the rhythm, well it’s meant to blend with little bother into the ecstatic, blow-the-roof-off, cutting party wit of Mulgrew Miller’s “The Eleventh Hour.” Anyone not familiar with Wilkins’ rapid ride to the top of the young jazz elite need only hear the power and glory of the elders his tone and energy conjure on this track alone. So entranced is Wilkins that Evans, sensing the young’un may blow a gasket, literally wrests the spotlight away by going total Thelonious Monk at about the four-minute mark.
Which brings us to “Libra” and the distinct possibility that Evans just may have penned the anthem for the new world. Sure the tune dates back to 2006 with the trio of Evans, bassist Madison Rast and drummer Byron Landham Live In Jackson, Mississippi (Imani Records), but it doesn’t resonate as deeply on that occasion as it does so effortlessly here. An elegiac, light hearted melody that won’t let go brings to the fore all of Evans’ soulful particulars: Percussive one moment, and poppy the next, riding a tight Stewart groove.
As if to show that he isn’t only about the power of his majestic horn, Wilkins delivers “The Poor Fisherman,” a knowing, reflective, shimmering ballad that Archer and Stewart whisper around as Evans plays with sentiment and delicacy. Another winner from Wilkins, “Levels” is a relaxed 5/4 that affords Evans and his former student some post bop, one-on-one time. Everyone swings intently on “Momma Loves.” As if to remind us that it isn’t always party time, the quartet quietly close with Evans’ ruminative “Dave,” making The Magic of Now a keeper from beginning to end.

Mike Jurkovic (All About Jazz)