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Captain Black Big Band gets some great local coverage from the Philly Inquirer…

It’s a challenge to keep even a small band going for any length of time in the current jazz climate, and maintaining a big band that splits its time and membership between two cities is even harder.

But pianist Orrin Evans has done just that, helming his Captain Black Big Band for more than four years since its beginnings at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in late 2009. So why does he regularly corral 14 musicians from New York and Philly to tackle the ensemble’s boisterous arrangements?

“When I figure that out, I’ll probably stop doing it,” Evans said with a shrug last week over lunch at McMenamin’s Tavern near his home in Mount Airy. “It’s overwhelming – I’ve got to make sure everybody’s there, we’re not making tons of money, there’s a lot of people to pay. Musically, I love the sound of all these different colors and different sounds coming together. But I still haven’t quite figured out why I like doing it, and that’s what makes me get on that highway every week to see what happens.”

These days, Captain Black calls New York City home, with a residency on Monday nights at the Upper West Side club Smoke. The band returns to Philadelphia Wednesday night to celebrate release of its second CD, Mother’s Touch, at World Cafe Live with a pair of guests, both Philly natives: vocalist Joanna Pascale and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.

Rosenwinkel, who will also perform Tuesday at Underground Arts with his new psych-rock-improv trio Bandit 65, writes by e-mail that he’s a big fan of Evans: “Orrin is a brilliant pianist and dynamic composer and bandleader – a very soulful artist. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Wednesday’s show will mark their first chance to play together. “I wanted the opportunity to play with him and to get myself out of the comfort zone,” Evans said. “I don’t normally use guitarists that much, but with Rosenwinkel, I get a chance to play with a guitarist, someone from Philly, and someone I’ve wanted to play with for a while.”

Pascale is an old friend. Their first encounter was a near-disaster. She was 14 years old when her mother brought her to the now-defunct Blue Moon Jazz Club, where Evans was leading a regular jam session. When he called her to the stage, she brought up sheet music for Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” He waved it away.

“This was honestly the first time I’d ever sung when I wasn’t singing along to a record,” Pascale recalls. “Orrin starts playing, and something wasn’t right. I start singing, and he’s in a different key, and I’m horrified. So I turn around, and the bassist and drummer are laughing hysterically to the point where tears were rolling down their faces and their shoulders were shaking trying to hold it in.”

Nevertheless, Pascale and Evans established a musical relationship that has lasted nearly two decades. Most recently, he producedWildflower, her coming CD, which also features an appearance by Rosenwinkel. “Joanna’s like a little sister to me,” Evans said. “I think we really see time and space and rhythm in the same way. So whatever we do, there’s going to be space for us to grow and make something happen.”

What’s cool about Captain Black, Pascale says, “is how loose it is. But the level of musicianship of every single person in that band is so high that no matter what you put in front of them, it elevates the music to a whole other level.”

Mother’s Touch reveals a far more refined ensemble than the raw, combustible band captured live on its self-titled debut. Still, Evans is never one to plan much in advance and enjoys the thrill of the unexpected – even if it means occasionally playing a gig where not a single trombonist manages to show up.

“A part of me thinks it would be great to walk in and have a full band every week,” he said. “But I prefer to not know what’s going to happen. As much as it seems like it would be easier for it to all be the same every week, that would get real boring for me. I never really get nervous – but I get nervous about the big band.”



Orrin Evans’

Captain Black Big Band

8 p.m. Wednesday, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St.

Tickets: $20.

Information: 215-222-1400,

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Another review for Orrin Evans “Mother’s Touch”…

Mighty Majestic Brilliance from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band

by delarue

Big band jazz is not the most lucrative style of music: after paying twenty guys for the gig, you’re lucky if there’s anything left over for you. But some of the most exciting composers in jazz persist in writing and recording large-ensemble pieces. Darcy James Argue is probably the most cutting-edge. Of all the purist, oldschool, blues-based big bands playing original material, pianist Orrin Evans‘ Captain Black Big Band is without a doubt the most powerful and entertaining. For those who don’t know his music, Evans is a vigorously cerebral tunesmith and one of this era’s most distinctive pianists: think of a young Kenny Barron with more stylistically diverse influences and you’re on the right track. Evans’ initial recording with this band was a roller-coaster ride through lively and often explosive, majestically blues-infused tunes. His new one, Mother’s Touch, is arguably even better, and has a broader emotional scope. Evans and this mighty crew play the album release show at Smoke jazz club uptown (Broadway between 105th and 106th) with sets at 7 and 9 PM on April 28. Get there early if you’re going (a seat a the bar is your best bet) because this will probably sell out.

The album’s slow, torchy first track, In My Soul, is amazing. It’s the most lavishly orchestrated oldschool soul song without words you’ll ever hear. Evans’ gentle, gospel-infused piano, Marcus Strickland’s searching tenor sax solo, and an artfully arranged conversation between groups of horns lead up to a joyously brass-fueled peak. By contrast, Explain It to Me is an enigmatic, pinpoint, Monk-ish latin groove, guest drummer Ralph Peterson doing a good impersonation of a salsa rhythm section on his big kit.

The album’s title track is a relatively brief two-parter: it’s basically an intro, guest pianist Zaccai Curtis spiraling around majestically on the first and then leapfrogging on the second over a dense wall of sound and Anwar Marshall’s tumbling drums.The best song on the album – and maybe the best single song that’s come over the transom here this year – is Dita. Throughout its long, impressionistic crescendos, elegant solo voices peeking in through the Gil Evans-like lustre and gracefully acrobatic outro, the pianist has a great time alluding to both the rhythm and the blues.


Tickle, written by Donald Edwards, works variations on a series of big, whirling riffs echoed by Stacy Dillard’s clustering tenor solo and then some wryly energetic call-and-response among the orchestra. An Eric Revis song, Maestra builds off a trickily rhythmic, circular riff underpinning a casually funky groove and a tersely jaunty Fabio Morgera trumpet solo. The band has a blast with the droll, bubbly bursts of Wayne Shorter’s Water Babies, a long trumpet solo giving voice to the most boisterous of the toddlers in the pool. The album ends with the epic Prayer for Columbine, an unexpectedly optimistic, cinematic theme grounded in unease – it has the feel of a longscale Quincy Jones soundtrack piece from the mid 60s. Pensive trombone over a similarly brooding vamp eventually gives way to a massive funk groove with a long, vividly animated conversation between aggravated baritone sax and a cooler-headed counterpart on tenor. It’s not always clear just who is soloing, but the whole thing is a sweeping, passionate performance from a big crew which also includes trumpeters Tanya Darby, Duane Eubanks, Tatum Greenblatt and Brian Kilpatrick; saxophonists Mark Allen, Doug Dehays, Stacy Dillard, Tim Green and Victor North, trombonists Dave Gibson, Conrad Herwig, Stafford Hunter, Andy Hunter and Brent White, with Luques Curtis on bass.

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Jeff Krow reviews “Mother’s Touch” for Audiophile Audition…


Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band – Mother’s Touch – Posi-Tone PR8123, 50:11 ****:

(Orrin Evans – piano; Tanya Darby, Duane Eubanks, Tatum Greenblatt, Brian Kilpatrick, Fabio Morgera – trumpets; David Gibson, Conrad Herwig, Andy Hunter, Stafford Hunter, Brent White – trombones; Mark Allen, Todd Bashore, Doug Dehays, Stacy Dillard, Tim Green, Victor North, Marcus Strickland – saxophones; Luques Curtis – bass; Anwar Marshall – drums. With Ralph Peterson, drums on “Explain It to Me” and Zaccai Curtis on piano on “Mother’s Touch”)

Orrin Evans’ rise on the jazz scene has been swift, almost meteoric. With nearly fifteen releases since the mid-90s, Evans has defined the term prolific. Split between the Criss Cross and Posi-Tone labels, Orrin has covered the gamut from piano trios, small group sessions, and lately with his Captain Black Big Band, he has really branched out. For me he hit my radar screen big time in 2010 with Faith in Action, where he split compositions between his own work and those of Bobby Watson. With the issue of the Captain Black big band live issue in 2011it was evident that the big band bug was irresistible with its infinite possibilities. Having a ready assortment of able East Coast sidemen available makes it economically feasible for labels to finance a big band project while the members can continue with their local projects and gigs. That’s good news for us all.

What I especially dug about Mother’s Touch, Evans’ first studio big band CD for Posi-Tone, is the wide variety of jazz idioms that Orrin tackles. There is simply something for everyone who digs jazz. The common denominator, however, is a very strong sense of swing throughout the nine tracks. “In My Soul” is classic sweet hard bop with gospel overtones. Orrin takes you into the church with some righteous piano blues. The horns have their ensemble say, but Evans has set the stage for a strong opener.

“Explain It to Me” follows with gusto and Ralph Peterson is at the helm on drums. Soaring soprano sax and a Latinesque vibe is prevalent. “Mother’s Touch” is done in two parts, both short and powerful, a bit of a tease leaving hope for more. “Dita” is a favorite of mine, done with sublime beauty and some tender piano lines from Orrin. It’s a gentle meditation, and I can picture it as written for someone special. Some soulful sax here as well.

“Tickle” is a strong chart with a lot packed into four minutes. It shows the take no prisoners power of this big band. Eric Revis’ “Maestra” lets bassist Luques show his funky side. Mid-track finds some sophisticated ensemble work from the horns, while Anwar Marshall’s stick work stands out.

The CD concludes with a potent “Prayer for Columbine.” It has an anthemic theme, and the trombone section is deeply moving. Mother’s Touch is a clear winner, with each track contributing to an overall solid big band experience.  I eagerly await the next visit from the Captain Black aggregation.


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All About Jazz writer Mark Corroto reviews “Mother’s Touch”…

Nobody does big bands these days. Nobody. Not without institutional support like a university or a foundation. Not unless you are Orrin Evans. The Philadelphia pianist writes and arranges music so appealing, a revolving cast of musicians can’t resist playing his music. While we will never see an independent outfit like the Captain Black Big Band, which can swell to thirty plus musicians, touring for months on end, their occasional gigs and recordings are a godsend. 

The studio recording Mother’s Touch follows the self-titled Captain Black Big Band (Positone, 2011) recorded live in various locations in 2010. Where the previous was subject to the challenges of a live date, the separation of players, microphone placement, and the room’s acoustics, none of those issues are present here. Plus, this session captures all the energy of a live date. 

Credit the energy to Evans’ arrangements. He dispenses the power of his big band in a judicious manner, often eschewing the elephantine nature of a large ensemble for just a few players. “Explain it to Me” glides upon Marcus Strickland‘s soprano saxophone and the drumming ofRalph Peterson with the ensemble supporting, but never overwhelming the affair. 

The pianist is probably best known for his small group work, releasing much admired music on the Criss Cross and Posi-Tone labels. He is a post-bop player with roots in Gospel and percussive touch that oozes soul. The opening piece “In My Soul” best exemplifies this approach. He builds upon a blues theme, evoking the lateness of the soul/jazz hour with the velveted touch of a 1960s jazz band. Elsewhere, he invokes the spirit of Gil Evans music on “Dita” and the Wayne Shorter composition “Water Babies.” The latter tune features a muted trumpet (a juicy rendition by Tatum Greenblatt) and trombone flourish. Both pieces weave a fine, delicate orchestration, one that doesn’t encroach on the soloists. 

He even steps away from his piano to conduct on the two parts of the title track, deferring to Zaccai Curtis. These two shortish pieces are mini-exercises in horn arranging and showcase his skills at marshaling a pool of talent. The disc ends with the punchy and powerful “Prayer For Columbine.” Evans releases the full power of his big band, yet consistent with his approach, maintains a considerate and sympathetic approach.

Track Listing: In My Soul; Explain It To Me; Mother’s Touch Part I; Dita; Tickle; Maestra; Water Babies; Mother’s Touch Part II; Prayer For Columbine.

Personnel: Tanya Darby: trumpet; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet; Brian Kilpatrick: trumpet; Fabio Morgera: trumpet; Mark Allen: saxophone; Todd Bashore: saxophone; Dog Dehays: saxophone; Stacy Dillard: saxophone; Tim Green: saxophone; Victor North: saxophone; Marcus Strickland: saxophone; David Gibson: trombone; Conrad Herwig: trombone; Andy Hunter: trombone; Stafford Hunter: trombone; Brent White: trombone; Orrin Evans: piano; Zaccai Curtis: piano (3,8); Luques Curtis: bass; Anwar Marshall: drums; Ralph Peterson: drums (2). Additional arrangements by: Todd Bashore, Todd Marcus, David Gibson, and Gianluca Renzi.

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Brent Black on Captain Black Big Band “Mother’s Touch”…

With Mother’s Touch, Evans may be the finest improvisational pianist since McCoy Tyner.
At times I have been tough on Orrin Evans simply because he is that good. Flip The Script may be one of the fines piano trio recordings of the modern era, Mother’s Touch has just raised the bar for big bands everywhere. Orrin Evans is a man of keen intellect and supreme passion. Mother’s Touch is that harmonic outpouring of intellect and passion that transcends the expected and “flips the script” for a big band to move well outside the harmonic box of the norm and create a new cerebral plane from which to contemplate just where the melodic road less traveled may lead.
The Captain Black Big Band takes synergy and cohesion to a new place. A relentless swing that embraces a new lyrical norm. Everyone is singing from the same page of the hymnal. The commitment of Evans is well known, the beauty is that he never gets in his own way with Mother’s Touch. The band includes standouts such as saxophonist Tim Green, trombonist Conrad Herwig and Tanya Darby on trumpet but it is the innate ability of 17 piece horn section to function as a true improvisational collective that allows some stunning originals from Evans to reach full potential. “In My Soul” and “Prayer For Columbine” are the perfect bookends and add tremendous depth and sensitivity to a compositional arsenal sometimes more closely associated with the more inaccessible stereotypes that Mother’s Touch effectively shatters. Six of the nine tunes are Evans originals.
While artistic comparisons are inherently unfair to all parties, Mother’s Touch is reminiscent of some of the great McCoy Tyner big band projects but the vision and voice is distinctly that of Orrin Evans. There is nothing to grind on here as Orrin Evans has found his wheelhouse.
Already one of the best for 2014!