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Teamwork in Take Five: Orrin Evans and Kevin Eubanks, In Common, SFJAZZ Collective, Drome Trio, Survival Unit III

Orrin Evans and Kevin Eubanks, "Dawn Marie"

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks and pianist Orrin Evans share a natural simpatico, with more than the city of Philadelphia as a common bond between them. For starters, Evans has been playing with Eubanks' younger brother Duane, a trumpeter, on and off for the last 25 years. But there's also a shared sensibility in the way that Evans, 46, and Eubanks, 64, both prize an organic balance of the earthy and the ethereal in their music — and bring an absolute technical authority to virtually any setting. In 2017, each made an appearance on the other's album: Eubanks' East West Time Line (Mack Avenue) and Evans' #knowingishalfthebattle (Smoke Sessions), for which they paid a visit to WBGO.

Orrin Evans and Kevin Eubanks, "Dawn Marie"

But their rapport takes true center stage on EEE (Eubanks-Evans-Experience), a duo album releasing this Friday on Imani Records. Recorded both in the studio and at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, it's a broadly expressive statement, suggesting not just a collegial exchange but some kind of mind-meld. WBGO is proud to premiere "Dawn Marie," a composition that Evans previously recorded 20 years ago, for his album Meant to Shine. Dedicated to his wife, Dawn Warren Evans, it's a ballad with a serene yet wakeful spirit, perfectly suited to Eubanks' rippling nuances of tone and touch.

Kevin Eubanks and Orrin Evans will be on tour next month, reaching World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on April 22, the Jazz Gallery in New York on April 23, and City Winery in Washington, D.C. on April 24.

In Common, "For Some Time"

'For Some Time' from 'In Common III' by Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens

Up to this point, In Common — a band jointly led by saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Matthew Stevens — has been an engine of discovery. The band's first order of business is right there in the name. Its second order of business, on a self-titled debut and a plainly titled sequel, has been to spotlight smart young talent on the rise. So there's a change in protocols on In Common III, just out on Whirlwind Recordings — in that its guests are all established artists. Two of the three, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, are NEA Jazz Masters; the third, pianist Kris Davis, was just named a Doris Duke Artist in the same class as Wayne Shorter. Because of who these people are, there's no danger of complacency on the album, which features group improvisations along with pieces by Stevens and Smith. "For Some Time," one of Smith's, opens with a pointillist exchange between Carrington and Davis, who have developed the deepest of bonds. Then comes a dispassionate melody, floating over the syncopations. The energy exchange of the group — in a mode that Joe Zawinul once pegged as "no one solos, everyone solos" — extend past the fadeout, maybe forever.

SFJAZZ Collective, "Mutuality"


As its title implies, New Works Reflecting the Momentthe new album by the SFJAZZ Collective, due out this Friday — considers music a crucial response to social issues. Recorded in concert at the SFJAZZ Center last fall, it includes arrangements of vital anthems like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away." But that spirit extends to the originals on the program, including "Mutuality," composed by SFJAZZ Collective musical director Chris Potter, who furnishes the tune with an improvised prelude on tenor saxophone. Potter's arresting solo continues as bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Kendrick Scott enter the picture — setting a tone for some troubled yet hopeful lyrics about the human family, sung by Gretchen Parlato. (One verse feels torn from the headlines, though it's sadly evergreen: "See that woman in a war zone / Every day to day / Praying that the bombs would go away.") An impassioned trumpet solo by Etienne Charles ratchets up the tension, before Parlato brings it home.

The SFJAZZ Collective tour reaches the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia on April 3, the Berks Jazz Festival in Reading, Penn. on April 6, and the South Orange Performing Arts Center on April 7.

Michael Formanek's Drome Trio, "Tattarrattat"

Bassist Michael Formanek, saxophonist Chet Doxas and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza constitute Drome Trio, which became an active concern sometime during our first pandemic summer. About a year later, Formanek used a commission from the Jazz Coalition to create a series of musical palindromes "inspired by the changes in my own perception of time during 2020 Covid-19 self-quarantine," as he wrote. His new album, Were We Where We Were, due out this Friday on his Circular File Records, captures the end product — executed by Drome Trio in a manner that naturalizes the schematic elements of the writing, such that you'd hardly even notice. "Tattarrattat," which opens and closes the album, is emblematic: note the title, which is just the most obvious manifestation of Formanek's palindromic designs. There's brawn as well as brains in this music, and hardly a moment when the two feel remotely at odds.

Survival Unit III, "Part V"

Survival Unit III is a collective trio whose dauntless members —Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Joe McPhee on tenor saxophone and pocket trumpet, Michael Zerang on drums — share a commitment to the rugged end of the free-improvising spectrum. Their new release, The Art of Flight: For Alvin Fielder, was recorded in New Orleans at the 2018 Instigation Festival, which also featured Fielder in performance. (A percussionist and charter member of the AACM, he died in 2019.) "Part V" is the final section of a 40-minute set that enfolds a wide dynamic range, and it feels like a proper culmination.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.