Captain Black Big Band
Boasting a raw, vigorous sound, a raucous, unpredictable vibe, and a membership ranging from elders to rising stars, the Captain Black Big Band has rapidly seized the attention of the jazz world to become one of the most vital big bands on the modern scene. That's no surprise given the leadership of pianist/composer Orrin Evans, who imbues the ensemble with his distinctively bold, bracing sensibility.
Founded in late 2009, Captain Black was conceived as a vehicle for Evans to combine the power and scale of a big band with the freedom and spontaneity of a small group. From its beginnings at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Evans' native Philadelphia through its long-running Monday night residency at New York's Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, the band has evolved into just that -- a flexible and tightrope-walking unit whose daring approach lends the music an exhilarating edge.
The band now has two critically-acclaimed albums to its name -- its 2011 self-titled debut and 2014's Mother's Touch (both Posi-Tone) -- with a third due this winter via the Smoke Sessions label. They were named Rising Star Big Band of the Year in the 61st annual DownBeat Critics Poll, and placed in the top five for Big Band of the Year in the most recent poll. The magazine's review called Mother's Touch "extraordinary... a sweet summertime powerhouse of a record that slips and slides with breathtaking compositions, arrangements, solos and grandeur."
More recently the band has been called upon for more ambitious projects, including two high-profile commissions: a suite honoring the centennial year of cosmic bandleader Sun Ra, premiered at Jazz at Lincoln Center; and another inspired by Thomas Hart Benton's mural "America Today," performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art accompanied by scrolling photos of the artwork.
...named Rising Star Big Band of the Year in the 61st annual DownBeat Critics Poll, and placed in the top five for Big Band of the Year in the most recent poll.
Captain Black's origins can be traced back to 2007, when Evans was invited to lead a big band at Portugal's Guimaraes Jazz Festival. As a longtime member of the Mingus Big Band, he had years of experience performing with a large ensemble, but the success of that concert convinced him to try to lead his own big band, despite the obvious financial and logistical obstacles. It was christened for Evans' father's preferred brand of tobacco, which had previously lent its name to Evans' 1998 Criss Cross release Captain Black.
The band's original incarnation was largely culled from students in the jazz programs at Philly's Temple University and University of the Arts, supplemented by veteran players from Evans' New York rolodex. By the time of the band's debut album, recorded live at Chris' Jazz Cafe and at New York's Jazz Gallery, the line-up included such notable names as saxophonists Tia Fuller, Wayne Escoffery, Tim Warfield, and Jaleel Shaw; trumpeters Duane Eubanks and Jack Walrath; trombonist Frank Lacy; bassists Mike Boone and Luques Curtis; and drummers Donald Edwards and Gene Jackson. Mother's Touch added names like saxophonists Stacy Dillard, Tim Green and Marcus Strickland; trombonist Conrad Herwig; and drummer Ralph Peterson.
...Evans has given ample credit for Captain Black's success to the arrangers who transform his and other composers' work into raw material for the band to bring to life.
The band has become more compact over time, reduced from 17 to 10 pieces, without losing its forceful identity. It features a rotating cast of brilliantly skilled talent, including saxophonists Todd Bashore, Victor North, Chelsea Baratz, Mark Allen; trumpeters Tatum Greenblatt, Josh Lawrence, Tanya Darby, Brian Kilpatrick; trombonists David Gibson, Stafford Hunter, Brent White; and drummer Anwar Marshall.
Since its beginnings, Evans has given ample credit for Captain Black's success to the arrangers who transform his and other composers' work into raw material for the band to bring to life. Both trombonist David Gibson and saxophonist Todd Bashore have not only contributed a wealth of arrangements but both step in to lead the band when Evans is touring or pursuing other projects. The pianist now sees the ensemble like a father views a child -- as an independent entity with its own life, in which he plays a continuing and key part. The child remains recognizable, however, sharing its father's penchant for risk-taking, robust expression, and independent vision.