Evan Christopher is serious about New Orleans jazz. Our cover profile of him highlighted his commitment to high order artistic expression from within a set of musical devices available to that jazz tradition. “Artistically”, he says in the liner notes to his new album “the real challenge is not only to use [the] vocabulary responsibly but to make it contemporary at the same time.”
Christopher’s career is a force of will, and he has an ambitious recording schedule to prove it. His latest release for Jazzology explores The Art of the New Orleans Trio with two classic instrumentations featured. The first half of the 12 track album finds him with Kris Tokarski on piano and Benny Amon on drums. Both are among the young musicians who have flocked to the city since Hurricane Katrina. The rest of the album has him with Don Vappie on guitar and Peter Harris on bass. Both have long local careers behind them.
The result is not a sense of two contrasting albums but simply a shift in tone. The pump of piano and drums has an easy energy giving the feel of a full New Orleans band. With a guitar and bass backing it is harder to lift out of the café jazz vibe but this threesome is up to the task. The local heat, the “elasticity of the beat”, as Christopher puts it, is maintained throughout.
All but three tracks are original compositions. Christopher consciously adopted chord progressions from standards or elements of several songs to encourage a feeling of easy familiarity. For example, “Meet Me At The Eagle Saloon” draws on “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans”, creating a similar melancholy. The title fits the composition, especially if you know the role the Eagle Saloon played in early jazz.
Several titles reference New Orleans, including “City Park Swing” and “Follow The Second Line”, (the only one of the bunch Christopher wrote earlier than 2016). They achieve an authentic feel, and titles like “Alone At The Ball” and “You’ll Be Cryin’ The Blues, Not Me” are convincing enough to fool a sheet music collector.
The trio format allows for deep interplay and plenty of time for all concerned. Evan is certainly one of our leading clarinetists with an intuitive grasp of the creole clarinetists he emulates. Kris Tokarski impresses, and has an comfortable report with Ammon on drums. The first section ends with one of the three standards, a romping “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” that concludes with a particularly nice clarinet run.
Vappie builds a natural heat throughout the second half of the album, and Harris nails both ensemble play and solos. This isn’t an “ice sculpture” gig, the trio demand full attention and if there’s blood left in you you’ll be moved. “Old Sober March” is particularly invigorating. The final track breaks the trio format with the inclusion of Jon-Erik Kellso playing trumpet on “Lonesome Me”, it’s an outtake from his new release recorded during the same sessions.
While Evan expresses a preference in his liner notes for not lugging around drums and worrying about out of tune pianos I personally enjoyed hearing the two younger players put to the test. That said, the skillful ease of experience brought to the second half of the album will find many who prefer it. This is a high quality record deserving of the attention the Jazzology label can bring it.
Jazzology Records JCD-416 Released: 09/09/2020