The Experimentations of Orrin Evans Succeed Wildly on '#knowingishalfthebattle,' Smoke Sessions [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt on Nov 08, 2016 04:57 PM EST

Orrin Evans Pianist Orrin Evans wildly experiments on his third Smoke Sessions CD. (Photo : courtesy Smoke Sessions Records)

There's no ceiling on the creativity of pianist Orrin Evans, 41, whose new #knowingishalfthebattle on Smoke Sessions Records is bracketed by two guitarists-Kurt Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks-who vie for attention throughout, be it in tandem, battle or synchronized athleticism. Then there's saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis (whose "Heavy Hangs The Head Who Wears The Crown" is a highlight). Oh man, you're going to be hearing a lot more about this kid! He wields his sax like a weapon of mass destruction. The 13 tracks in a hefty 72:45 contain some pretty damn cool surprises too.

It's a Philly thing, man. Evans was raised there as were both guitarists. You know Eubanks from his 15 years leading the band of NBC-TV's The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. You might not know Rosenwinkel, though, but you should. He earned his stripes in the bands of Gary Burton, Paul Motian, Joe Henderson and Brian Blade, and has 12 CDs under his own name. He's a monster!

The title is taken from the old G.I. Joe TV show where the animated protagonist would say "knowing is half the battle" at the end of every cartoon.The title track is last and informed by Orrin's teenaged son Matthew Evans who produced the track electronica-style. The biggest surprise is David Bowie's "Kooks." (Evans performed it live on the night the rock legend died.)

I could've done without bassist Luques Curtis letting his infant daughter cry all over "Zeni Bea" but that's the only misstep. Evans' dad, playwright Donald Evans, wrote the title of "You Don't Need A License To Drive" wherein Eubanks positively brings his solo to a boil. Vocalist M'Balia gets in a few swoops and swirls to add to the anything-goes mindset.

For his part, Evans is like a streamlined Monk without the craziness. And when his mates are soloing, the comping he does underneath is worthy of repeated listens. Guess it's time to go back and dig his first two Smoke Sessions as this one, his third, is so damn solid.

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TagsOrrin Evans, Smoke Sessions Records, REVIEW, Kevin Eubanks

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