Hard to believe it’s been just over 3 years since Posi-Tone Reecords released the self-titled debut CD from the Captain Black Big Band. Culled from 3 live dates, the music was hard-hitting, raucous, even fevered at times but filled with soulful melodies, smart arrangements and great solos.
8 months after that release (11/11), pianist, composer, founder and leader Orrin Evans took the band into Systems Two in Brooklyn to record the follow-up. Partially crowd-funded through United States Artists (find out more about the organization here), “Mother’s Touch” is even better. 6 of the 9 tracks are Evans’ originals with one each from Eric Revis, Donald Edwards and Wayne Shorter. 6 different arrangers contributed to the program with the 2-part title track (cuts 3 and 8) attributed to the 20-member ensemble made up of 5 trumpets, 7 reeds, 5 trombones and a rhythm section.
The opening track, “In My Soul“, welcomes the listener with warm reeds and brass, a slow blues featuring excellent solos from Evans and tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland. Gianluca Renzi’s arrangement has the flavor of Julius Hemphill in the lush saxophone melody and Thad Jones in the brass. Trombonist David Gibson arranged Evans’ piece “Explain It To Me“, a piece that blends a fiery Latin feel with several straight-ahead sections. Strickland delivers a soaring soprano sax solo while Ralph Peterson drives the band with his usual abandon – it’s the drummer’s only appearance on the CD with the bulk of the tracks driven by Anwar Marshall. The pianist’s sweet ballad “Dita (for Karyn Warren)” has a lovely melody that Evans delivers in a most deliberate manner and the alto solo from Todd Bashore (who arranged the cut) is short but loaded with soul. The arrangement calls for clarinets and flute plus a sweeping trumpet counterpoint and low trombones. Edwards’ “Tickle” is a straight-ahead “barn burner” that smokes all the way through its 4:06, especially when tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard flies atop the amazing bass and drum work. Evans follows with his own energetic solo. Revis, who is the bassist in the trio Tarbaby as well as long-time member of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, penned “Maestra“for the latter group. Here, the handsome ballad gets a funky makeover with a classy arrangement by Laura Kahle Watts (wife of drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts) featuring strong support from Evans plus fine solos from Victor North (tenor sax) and Fabio Morgera (trumpet). Trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt created the arrangement for Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies” with its fine “call-and-response” featuring the soprano sax and muted trumpets at the onset.
The program closes with “Prayer for Columbine“, an Orrin Evans composition first recorded with drummer Ralph Peterson on his 2003 “Tests of Time” Criss Cross release (there is also an Evans Quintet live version from 2013 – you can watch it here.) Here, the Todd Marcus arrangement speeds the piece up a bit while creating a sweeping arrangement of the melody line from the trumpets (with saxophone counterpoint and trombone support.) The tension builds throughout the 4 solos that start with trombonist Conrad Herwig and moves up to baritone saxophonist Mark Allen and then onto a conversation with the alto saxophone of Tim Green and tenor sax of Stacy Dillard. By the climax of the piece, the 2 men are center stage, their sounds converge then take the piece down to its quiet conclusion.
“Mother’s Touch” is an excellent recording, from the compositions to the arrangements to the solos. The sound is stunning, crisp drums and piano stand out as does the way the mix spreads the reeds and brass sections around the spectrum. Orrin Evans makes a positive impression with every project he creates, he questions conformity and makes political statements yet does so with true belief. If you like large ensemble music, you should love the Captain Black Big Band!