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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Atane Ofiaja

“You’ve heard of the leadership crisis in America? Orrin Evans is not part of that problem,” writes Ben Ratliff in The New York Times. “Running a jazz big band in 2010 involves skill in composing, arranging, conducting and scheduling; it also involves nerve, because a big band these days is naturally a kind of statement, a platform for adventuresome writing or maintaining a tradition. And it takes strength: musical and physical.”

Orrin’s large ensemble, the Captain Black Big Band (or CBBB, for short), features a rotating lineup of musicians from Philadelphia and New York. The band deals in “the kind of jazz that nearly everyone could agree to call jazz,” writes NPR:

There are layers of squirming saxes, bright piano and serious brass blasts — low-end, high-note, and mid-range alike — tied together with a surplus of swing. But it doesn’t sound stuck in a misremembered era — there are jutting edges to the writing, and they’re played with a fashionably loose vibe… And no soloist is afraid to hold anything back: There’s audacity of spirit here.

On the origins of the band name, Orrin recalls: “Captain Black was a tobacco my father smoked. A good friend of mine, drummer Nasheet Waits, his father [drummer Freddie Waits] smoked Captain Black. One day, we were somewhere, and I could smell the tobacco. We just ended up talking about Captain Black. The name stuck. It’s really just a tribute to my dad.” However, after offering a similar explanation at a CBBB concert last summer, Orrin added, “…but I am wearing a dashiki, so it can mean whatever you want it to!”

A native son of Philadelphia, Orrin grew up immersed in the city’s rich musical landscape. He was also exposed to issues of identity politics and cultural awareness from an early age. Orrin’s father was both a Professor of African American Studies at Trenton State College and a Professor of English at Princeton University, and was involved in the Black Arts Movement as a playwright, while his mother sang with Opera Ebony and Opera North.

After continuing his studies at Rutgers University, Orrin moved to New York, quickly landing a tour with Bobby Watson‘s “Horizon” band. The pianist never looked back, performing and recording with the likes of Wallace Roney, Mos Def (now Yasiin Bey), Common, Pharoah Sanders, Roy Hargrove, and Gary Bartz, to name just a few.

Orrin has been leading his own bands for years, and has released numerous acclaimed albums on the Palmetto, Criss Cross, and Posi-Tone labels, as well as on his own imprint, Imani Records. One of these is the eponymous debut of the CBBB; released by Posi-Tone, half of the recording was done at The Jazz Gallery. We’ve presented Orrin in innumerable configurations since 2002, and we look forward to welcoming back the CBBB for two nights this Friday and Saturday.

The New York Times featured this weekend’s run by the CBBB in last weekend’s Arts & Leisure Week Ahead:

NOW’S the time to make plans to pile into the Jazz Gallery and hear ORRIN EVANS’S CAPTAIN BLACK BIG BAND, in town for two nights next weekend. Mr. Evans, the pianist, a bandleader and teacher, is a hero of the Philadelphia jazz scene, and though all of his groups have a certain kind of energy, the Captain Black band really dominates a room. It connotes the 1980s and ’90s in style and language, but maybe the ’60s in energy, which is to say it plays with urgency, beyond the coding that makes jazz a small-audience special interest. The lineup looks different depending on where and when he’s playing; this 14-piece one is full of first-call New Yorkers. Watch for the trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt, the saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Marcus Strickland, and the trombonist David Gibson; Mr. Evans, with the bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Anwar Marshall, tie it together.

Time Out New York has also selected the run as a Critics’ Pick, commenting: “Orrin Evans, a Philly pianist who approaches jazz tradition with both reverence and a deep inquisitiveness, leads his fine large ensemble, which translates postbop fire to the big-band canvas.”

Watch a video of the CBBB performing “Captain Black,” shot by Search & Restore last spring at The Gallery. Or just go ahead and buy your tickets now.