Across 20 albums as bandleader, including eight self-issued albums on his Imani imprint, pianist Orrin Evans has showcased an authoritative mastery of his instrument and deep assimilation of the fundamentals. A deft tune deconstructor, he traverses a broad timeline of the vocabularies of swinging, blues-infused hardcore jazz and spiritual jazz/avant garde jazz traditions, as well as the Euro-canon, with the intuitive spontaneity of an ear player.
In the booklet notes for Orrin Evans’ second album, Captain Black, recorded in 1998, the pianist, then 23, made a remark that encapsulates the aesthetic he’s followed ever since on his kaleidoscopic artistic journey. “I go head-first for a lot of things,” Evans said. “I like to stretch out. Wherever the music takes me, I’m going there.”
It’s taken a while, but the jazz gatekeepers have noticed. In 2018, Evans topped the Rising Star Pianist category in DownBeat Critics Poll, and a feature article about him appears in DownBeat’s September 2021 edition.
His touch projects an instantly recognizable sound, sometimes eliciting flowing rubato poetry, sometimes evoking the notion that the piano comprises 88 tuned drums. Evans’s stylistically polyglot compositions – influenced by the fearlessly expansive Black Music culture of his native Philadelphia and by a decade playing Charles Mingus’ beyond-category music in the Mingus Big Band – postulate an environment of “structured freedom.”
During his formative years, Evans – who made his first album, Justin Time (Criss Cross), at 21 – learned about diving into the deep end of the pool in the sink-or-swim milieu of Philadelphia’s jam sessions. Here, world class artists like pianist Shirley Scott, Trudy Pitts and Sid Simmons, bassists Arthur Harper and Charles Fambrough, and drummer Mickey Roker served as de facto mentors. During his early twenties he received similarly illuminating tough love from taskmaster leaders like Bobby Watson, Branford Marsalis and Ralph Peterson. Thus nurtured, he’s displayed reverence for legacy and roots by leaving the nest and creating one of his own.
In none of Evans’ units of recent years is that no-holds-barred attitude more prevalent than the Captain Black Big Band, a communitarian-oriented ensemble whose fourth and latest album is The Intangible Between (Smoke Sessions), preceded by Presence (Smoke Sessions). Both earned Grammy Award nominations.
Orrin Evans Instagram
This concert is also a part of Hammer Theatre Center's "Black Cab Jazz" Series, curated by San Jose Jazz. Find tickets on the Hammer Theatre website.
The "cool" counterpart to our annual Summer Fest, Winter Fest presents the best new discoveries in jazz, blues, Latin, salsa, Americana and more.
Subscribe to our updates and you’ll be the first to know about coming performances, special events and happenings in San Jose's arts and culture community.