Orrin Evans, The Red Door Review
Behind ‘The Red Door’: Orrin Evans’ Masterful Testimony of Personal and Musical Evolution
by Icrom Bigrad
In Orrin Evans’ latest release, The Red Door, the pianist, and bandleader transforms his three-decade career into a kaleidoscope of harmonious snapshots that capture his daring personal and musical image. Evans, a figure synonymous with innovation and guts, once again demonstrates his unerring ability to bring together the best in the business to create a remarkable tapestry of sound.
Embarking on a journey with The Red Door allows listeners to traverse an album filled with elements of remembrance and novel insights, reflective of the deep connections each musician shares with different phases of Evans’ artistic journey. The ensemble consists of two primary groups: one includes Buster Williams on bass and Gene Jackson on drums, interchanging with Wallace Roney on trumpet and Larry McKenna on tenor saxophone. The other group is a quintet with Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Gary Thomas on saxophone and flute, Robert Hurst on bass, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums. Further depth and variety are added to the album’s guest vocal performances by Jazzmeia Horn, Sy Smith, and Alita Moses.
The opening title track, “Red Door,” bursts into realization with a brassy, staccato effervescence reminiscent of Evans’ work with The Bad Plus. The sinewy post-bop rhythms and R’n’B inflections that hallmark Evans’ style is woven throughout the album, propelling the music forward and offering an animated platform for the assembled musicians’ virtuosity.
“Phoebe’s Stroll,” a jaunty trio workout, indicates Evans’ craft. It captures the essence of his artistry – his quotable, neo-pop melodicism, patience with time, and keen, articulate framing. This track is a seven-plus minute excursion that will undoubtedly echo in listeners’ minds after the song is finished.
The album also pays tribute to influential figures lost too soon, with compositions like Geri Allen’s “Feed the Fire” and Ralph Peterson Jr.’s “Smoke Rings” receiving a contemporary and dynamic treatment. Jazzmeia Horn delivers an impassioned rendition of Bill McHenry’s lyric for Evans’ “Big Small,” further congealing the album’s depth and range for the listener.
With a narrative rich with personal and musical histories, those sentiments hold the album together. The Red Door is Evans’ stepping through daunting red doors and his continued evolution as a musician. He invites listeners to join him on this journey, a swinging party on the other side of the red door. The Red Door is an album that flows through time, an evolving tribute to beloved mentors and collaborators, and above all, it’s Evans finding new sounds and visions and deeply individual.