Charles Evans' On Beauty - to be released May 12th on More is More Records - presents the seasoned baritone saxophone artist as a unique voice in the creative music community. On this audacious new project, written specifically for soprano saxophone great David Liebman, Evans has devised methods of combining chromatic harmony with improvisation, employing the rare combination of the baritone and soprano saxophones.
Evans and Liebman celebrate the CD in a special concert on Friday, June 19 at Greenwich House Music's Sound it Out Series in NYC. Joining them are Ron Stabinsky on piano and Tony Marino on bass. Evans also celebrates with two dates in Brooklyn: May 14 with Stabinsky, Marino and Dan Blake on soprano at Shapeshifter Lab and May 23 in a solo gig at The Firehouse Space.
Liebman put down the tenor saxophone for fifteen years to fully actualize his desire for a personal soprano voice. Evans, the apprentice, has followed Liebman's lead in many ways. Specifically, the exclusive devotion to the soprano's distant lower relative, the baritone, for nearly twenty years has rendered him ready for profound creation with the premiere living soprano master.
Each subsequent recording shows that Evans is continuing to go deeper into the development of a very personal approach both to playing his instrument and composing music perfectly suited to his playing style. As his work progresses, even the very open term "jazz" is beginning to seem too confining a term to describe his music. He has arrived at the point of simply sounding like Charles Evans. His work is highly expressive and often complex, but not in a way that aims to overwhelm. He achieves all through the subtlety and control that comes from years of single-minded pursuit of ideals without compromise.
The baritonist has worked diligently to broaden the expressive range of his instrument, with specific care towards the difficult altissimo register (featured very lyrically and eloquently here) as well as the application of chromatic improvisation/composition on the big horn. The music is strengthened by the use of freely associated triads, intervals, and chromatic lines in polyphonic improvisation with the other members of the group. The quartet members truly leave their egos at the door, beautifully expressing and understanding the composer's musical vision.
Accompanying the saxophonists are two musicians that are masters in their own right. Bassist Tony Marino, through his longtime tenure in various Liebman groups, brings a level of artistry on the upright that is rarely matched. His experience, and ability to adapt to the challenges of both the improvisational and written material, was indispensable in this undertaking. Pianist Ron Stabinsky can be heard in a variety of creative musical settings, from his new role in Mostly Other People Do the Killing to his recent work with trumpet virtuoso Peter Evans. Stabinsky proves to be the glue to the ensemble, bringing an incredible precision to the notation, along with a creative versatility to each movement of the piece.
Evans' music is genre nonspecific and avoids employing the traditional jazz vocabulary. The combination of jazz instruments, 20th-century classical techniques and harmonies, and free improvisation demonstrate Evans' refusal to be limited or allow his music to be pigeonholed. A preference for the subtle and delicate is often demonstrated, vs. traditional jazz virtuosity. Compositionally, the music grew from the successes of the quartet's first CD Subliminal Leaps. The baritonist's intent is to deepen the most beautiful attributes from the first record, thereby reaching further avenues of artistic expression.
"On Beauty," a composition written for Liebman's specific instrumental voice, utilizes devices with him in mind, many of which were cultivated and refined in past years by the innovative saxophonist. Evans contemplates beauty by taking a very close look at the finest musical qualities in the quartet's repertoire. Several polychord progressions are featured in the piece. Thematic melodies (at times appearing in variation such as retrograde) are derived from the harmonic material, and vice versa. These melodies are thoroughly exhausted throughout the work and reimagined, from the subtle eloquence of Movement I to the lively polytonal march of Movement II. Writing for two independent simultaneous duos takes precedence in Movement III and IV, where the quartet reaches a healthy balance of improvised vs. written material. Surprise is a virtue throughout, as the composition is varied by interruptions that lead the music to unexpected places. The use of the baritonist's virtuosic altissimo register is fully explored in tasteful ways, stating melodies both in duo with the soprano and also in support of Liebman's masterful polychordal improvisations. Ending Beauty brings back the themes, this time reharmonized, leading to a surprising up-tempo trading section and ending with the saxophone pair in duo at their introspective finest. This compositional cohesion is a fine example of the actualization of Evans' writing within Liebman's personal unique language, with all parties demonstrating profound and heartfelt improvisations.
Charles Evans was raised in a small town named Factoryville, Pennsylvania. He began intensive baritone saxophone study with the late Bill Zaccagni at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. During this time he also studied with David Liebman, who instilled an artistic mindset in the young baritonist and inspired him to pursue music to his fullest potential. Following Liebman's cue, Evans moved to New York, where he received a master's degree in jazz performance while studying with Antonio Hart. Shortly thereafter, he completed the Music Education program at Queens College for state certification.
Among Evans' seven releases is his March 2009 multi-layered solo baritone saxophone release, The King of All Instruments, which earned wide praise including 5 stars in DownBeat Magazine and helped enable Evans to consistently place in the DownBeat Annual Critics Poll on baritone saxophone. As Hank Shteamer said in his Time Out New York review: "Evans is dead serious about getting the most out of his regal horn. Hypnotic and, in spots, powerfully creepy, it's a singular statement from a composer expressing profound art." He continued to develop his non-tonal writing and playing with Live at St. Stephens (2009) receiving "Best New Release, 2010-Honorable Mention" in All About Jazz magazine. In 2013 Evans placed 4th in the "Rising Star Baritone Saxophone" category of DownBeat. As Michael Jackson noted in his 5 Star DownBeat review, "My highest marks are for originality and audacity, but there is a more profound inner communion here."
Perhaps it could be said that the baritone saxophone has a new leader, one who sees possibilities previously unexplored. Uniquely, Evans places composition on an equal level of importance to his playing, a quality that has proven instrumental in reaching sincere, personal, depth and expression. As Alain Drouot of DownBeat Magazine said about Subliminal Leaps, "The exchange on the opener shows that the saxophonists did not need much time to get acquainted. The unusual marriage (of baritone and soprano saxes) bears some impressive fruit on this outstanding new album." Subtle, dissonant, and emotional, Charles Evans has used the very same lineup and musical language to create a unique and expressive work of art once again, with the release of On Beauty (MIM 152).