Orrin Evans, The Red Door Review
Opening New Horizons: A Journey Through The Red Door with Orrin Evans
by Nolan DeBuke
The Red Door – a symbol of challenge, exploration, and beautiful discoveries, encapsulates the essence of Orrin Evans’ latest album. His three-decade-long journey in jazz music is a series of red doors he dares to open, each leading to collaborators, friends, inspiration, and history that shape his life and music.
In The Red Door, Orrin Evans collaborates with a variety of musicians. He performs on the piano, with Nicholas Payton and Wallace Roney contributing on the trumpet. Gary Thomas switches between tenor saxophone and flute, and Larry McKenna also provides tenor saxophone. The bass is handled by Robert Hurst and Buster Williams, while Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and Gene Jackson play the drums. Jazzmeia Horn, Sy Smith, and Alita Moses contribute as guest vocalists.
Evans presents a series of musical conversations and collaborative dialogues, representing a compelling narrative that is intricately woven into every song in the set, offering a series of tracks that are unified to provide an interconnected narrative that brings the listener into a vibrant, dynamic, and improvisational world of modern jazz.
Evans’ composition, “The Red Door,” exemplifies this approach. The track begins with a syncopated, staccato melody performed by the horns and Evans while Hurst and Smith maintain a pulsating rhythm. The melody segues into a Latin feel during the bridge, with the A following with developments and moving directly to the B section with the horns. For the solo section, an intriguing conversation ensues between the musicians, leading to a free-flowing interaction that gradually builds into an up-tempo swing. Here, Thomas’ and Payton’s collaborative soloing and Evans’ role as the conductor of this musical dialogue become evident. Evans subtly hints at the B-section melody, guiding the ensemble back to the head after the climactic group solo, showcasing a fluid, responsive interplay that is akin to a lively discussion.
In their rendition of the jazz standard “All The Things You Are,” the ensemble demonstrates a unique take on musical conversation. The track doesn’t start with the familiar melody; instead, Wallace Roney’s fiery trumpet solo navigates the well-known form and harmonic progressions. Evans and Williams create an elastic harmonic foundation, exchanging ideas and exploring various tonal possibilities. Jackson’s responsive comping complements Evans’ rhythmic motifs, creating a dynamic interplay. The chemistry between Evans, Williams, and Jackson allows for an explorative setting that always stays within the tune’s foundational elements, regardless of where the musical conversation leads. The melody finally reveals itself in the closing section, providing a satisfying culmination to this interpretive performance.
The Red Door is an invitation to an ongoing dialogue—a series of interrelated musical conversations that are as engaging as they are innovative. The album showcases Evans’ adeptness at directing these dialogues and improvisations, highlighting the intricate dynamics and shared narratives that form the heart of his modern jazz playing style. Evans’ piano playing and his role as a musical guide are central to the album’s narrative, providing the glue that holds the different tracks together. His style is a blend of assertiveness and subtlety, enabling the guest musicians to shine while maintaining the album’s cohesiveness. The Red Door shows Evans is rooted in the jazz tradition but is also open to new explorations and dialogues. The journey through The Red Door is one where each track is a conversation—a discussion that resonates with the history of jazz while foreshadowing its future.