With a new album release imminent, the productive, peaking pianist Orrin Evans again demands our attention with another bread-and-butter trio event, named Flip The Script. Supported this time Ben Wolfe (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums), Evans produces a no-nonsense program of mostly originals with a few choice covers in another solid outing for this product of Philly.
Flip The Script isn’t a sharp departure or great leap forward from his recent works, but that’s because his recent fare has been uniformly superb. What I can detect with this go around is that his focus is sharper than ever, with each track an entity onto itself, not a single one feeling as if he’s going through the motions. There’s also a conciseness you can’t miss: all but three of the ten selections run less than five minutes, a veritable sprint for improvisational jazz. The long tracks don’t go on much further than that.
As for Orrin’s playing style, the way I portrayed it for the Faith In Action is still appropriate: “The direct way Evans attacks the keys, the playful way his right hand plays a cat and mouse game with the left, and an eccentric portrayal of the blues tradition, Evans effectively evokes the specter of (Thelonious Monk).” There are attention-grabbing little eccentricities, but mostly in the abrupt tempo changes on cuts such as “Question,” “Flip The Script” and especially “TC’s Blues,” a three-part mini-suite that maintains his trio’s strong commitment to swing throughout the changes.
Even on a bouncy, highly melodic tune such as “A Brand New Day” (see YouTube below) Evans is stretching it out to a spritely modern jazz song. However, “Clean House” is the track to go for to hear Evans and his little band cook with intensity, and the “Answer” is not far behind.
The softer numbers portray another side of Evans, one who is as capable of grace and impressionistic motifs as another Evans: Bill. On “When” he sprinkles out notes like a gardener watering his flowers, and takes a blues tact for “Big Small,” working effectively with Wolfe, who lumbers around authoritatively for his bass solo. Evans’ melancholic portrayal of “Someday My Prince Will Come” creatively turns the song inside out into a minor chord dirge, virtually indistinguishable from the other versions, but very appealing in its own way.
The album ends on a somber note: a quiet, solo piano take on “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” a farewell to the just-deceased Soul Train impresario Don Cornelius. This early theme song to the show is also a salute to Evans’ hometown and the brilliant song craft of composers Gamble & Huff, who wrote this first #1 disco song with a very endearing melody with which Evans slowly entangles himself.
More than any of his other recent outings, Orrin Evans poured in heaping doses of his heart as well as his head in making Flip The Script. Evans is obviously not content to rest on his laurels, making yet another record that tops his prior ones.