When he picks up his horn, there’s no telling whether he’ll emit some guttural, low-end rumbles, reedy midrange lines or vicious smears and growls. In one performance, though, he’s likely to do all of the above at some point. But while his approach might move beyond musical trappings like chord changes and lines and into the realm of pure sound, he always approaches his instrument, and his compositions, with emotion.
Evans was a founding member of the group Mostly Other People Do the Killing, which reveled in the collision between jazz tradition and freewheeling improvisation. But he now focuses on his own works, which range from solo performances to duets to his current septet, which comes to town next week. The group began as a quintet that included Jim Black on drums; Ron Stabinsky (also of MOPDtK) on piano and synthesizer; Tom Blancarte on bass; and Sam Pluta on live electronics. At a performance at Winter Jazz Fest, in January, they were joined by violinist Mazz Swift, and Levy Lorenzo has also joined on percussion and electronics.
“This configuration is continuing the trajectory we have been on as a group,” Evans writes via email, “more towards a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted ‘orchestral’ approach to the variety of sound, texture and mood than ever before.” Even with seven players, many of whom use pedal effects on their instruments, Evans says the music sounds less crowded than one might expect. “I think it's due to the sensitivity of all the players to each other and the wide variety of sound that is always possible, lurking under the surface of every moment.”
Genesis, an album the quintet recorded predominantly on a 2015 European tour, features several extended pieces, ranging from the rollicking “Genesis/Schismogenesis” to “3 for Alice,” which is dedicated to the late pianist Alice Coltrane. The latter piece begins in a meditative mood and goes through several settings, including a jagged electronic section.
While the music often gets rather technical, sonically and compositionally, Evans always maintains an expressive quality. “The overarching thrust of my work these days — which is I think made more pertinent in our abysmal political and cultural climate — is to make sure that the music provides something different, something directly opposed to the superficiality, meanness and spiritual impoverishment we see all around us,” he writes. “Art might not be able to destroy white supremacy or authoritarian corporate hegemony, but it has its role to play in a larger struggle for the minds and spirits of our fellow humans. [It can] open a window in time and reaffirm, if there are any doubts, that something else is possible.”
Besides, even improvisation can offer life lessons. “This is a process-oriented approach that prioritizes sensitivity, the ability to adapt and listen, individual and collective power, the compression of all of one's faculties and history into a single moment of musical creativity,” writes Evans.