James Evans is an English musician, specializing in reed instruments and trombone, who became resident in New Orleans some years ago and quickly found himself in great demand with several traditional jazz groups including the Shotgun Jazz Band, Doro Wat, and recordings with pianist Steve Pistorius. To say that he is gifted would be a distinct understatement, for not only is he an excellent traditional jazz musician, he’s also a very creative composer of contemporary, non-traditional jazz music and has released at least two CDs featuring that approach.
This CD can best be presented as a traditional jazz release, albeit a very creative one as it features simultaneous yet different idiomatic approaches to the music. Firstly, the rhythm section, consisting only of bassist Tyler Thompson and banjo/guitar man Hunter Burgamy always nail the beat, fast or slow, in true traditional jazz fashion. Thompson, with his fulsome acoustic sound and hard attack, could be considered a rhythm section unto himself. His masterful slap-bass solo work is a delightful bonus. Burgamy and Thompson work together supportively and perfectly, making one not miss drums. Incidentally, Hunter Burgamy is featured with just enough solo work and attractive chordal support for the listener to realize that he can really play his instruments well.
While Evans himself is featured on clarinet, C-melody sax, and trombone, the other players, also featured liberally, consisting of trumpeters Wendell Brunious, David Boswell, and clarinetist Jory Woodis are fleet modern mainstream musicians that would seemingly clash with the traditionalist rhythm section, but don’t. One of this CDs few flaws is that the trumpet soloists on each tune are not identified and some tunes feature only one trumpeter, so one can only guess who that might be. Nevertheless, all are excellent.
As an instrumentalist, James Evans is a true virtuoso on the reed instruments, displaying plenty of dazzling technique and creative ideas. He’s not quite so adept on trombone yet able to convey more blues feeling. Highlights here are “Sugar” (not the famous Bix-associated one, but a hot 1920s selection last resurrected by the Temperance Seven), and “Four Or Five Times” arrangement taken directly from the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers version but featuring Evan’s C-melody sax and a bit of his slap-tongue clarinet along with his vocal. HIS VOCAL!
The most distinctive thing about this CD, indeed the third musical idiom performed, is the fact that James Evans sings extensively on all but one tune here in a style not heard normally in association with jazz. This is not meant as a criticism. Although he does stagger the lyrics rhythm-wise to not sound square, his overall vocal approach is close to the mid-1930s English dance band style of, say, Al Bowlly.
Pronounced vibrato, little variation from the melody, strong intonation. Although “Careless Love” could be defined as “blues,” he is no blues singer. His best selections here are more sophisticated material such as “Stardust,” “Fair And Square In Love,” and “Guilty.” In fact, “Stardust” may be his best vocal here while his creative duet playing clarinet with Tyler Thompson during “Fair And Square In Love” his best instrumental effort.
Evans’ trombone is heard on about half of the tunes, with “Let It Slide” being the standout. Did he write this? No information given. He also adds great blues effects on “Careless Love.”
None of the selections are allowed to go long enough to become tedious. In fact, the overall playing time of 38 minutes (nine tunes), is a bit short for a CD theses days, yet the quality and surprising variety of the music makes owning this CD worthwhile.
For a CD copy try the Louisiana Music Factory, or download from Bandcamp