Artist: Bill Evans
Album: Rise Above
Label: Vansman Records
Release Date: 05/30/2016
It’s become almost a cliché to talk about music without boundaries. Nonetheless there may not be a better living example of this than saxophonist Bill Evans. Consider his amazing career highlights – playing and recording with Miles Davis at age 22, later working with Mick Jagger, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and subsequently wide ranging artists such as Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Bela Fleck, the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Umphreys McGee and Phil Lesh & Friends. And, besides those various stints, this is Evans’ 25th album release as a bandleader.
Few artists in any genre could gather so many high profile guests for a recording. This project features Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, JJ Grey, Anders Osborne, Josh Dion, Murali Coryell and others. Says Bill, “I wanted to co-write and record with some of my favorite singers and musicians and create something truly special: music with no boundaries.” He’s achieved his goal – you’ll hear soul, southern rock, blues, jazz, and funk in this collection of tunes. Prominent cohorts include Joe Russo on drums, Marco Benevento on keys, Scott Metzger on guitar and the ever soulful Vaneese Thomas on background vocals. Banjos and fiddles factor into the mix on most tunes too.
All tunes are written or co-written by Evans except for a Widespread Panic take on Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.” The album just bristles with energy and grooves throughout, but perhaps the strongest sequence are the first six tunes featuring in order, JJ Grey, Warren Haynes, Murali Coryell and Mike Stern, Gregg Allman, Coryell again, and Anders Osborne. Evans handles an array of saxophones, using both soprano and tenor on some tunes. His playing is sturdy, expressive and lyrical. It’s best described by this quote from JJ Grey, “There is something deeply primal and inspiring when someone transcends talent and musical ideas on an instrument. What they do becomes a voice. That’s why Bill Evans doesn’t play a saxophone he sings on it!”
This is a series of wild rides with few quiet moments. It’s like a day at the amusement park where one goes for the thrills, speed, and sheer excitement at every chance.
– Jim Hynes