If athletes peak in their mid-to-late twenties, musicians seem to hit their stride a decade later. By that time, extensive training has mixed with a modicum of experience to begin to produce fully formed art. The Peter Evans Septet, six of whom are in their mid-to late thirties, provided brilliant illustration of this premise, as they treated 85 listeners to a mind-altering Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares concert at the Arts Block on Sunday, April 9.
With the exception of Jim Black, the exceptional 49-year old drummer, the other members: Sam Pluta, live electronics, Mazz Swift, violin, Ron Stabinsky, keyboards, Tom Blancarte, bass, Levy Lorenzo, percussion and electronics and Evans, trumpet, are all young veterans with something to say and the means to say it.
At one point the Septet sustained a single note over two or three minutes that filled the space with shards of overtones. At other points, the band swung with the forward momentum of a 16-wheeler on a 35 degree decline. Over the course of the concert the ensemble reduced to playing in mini-groups of two or three. Throughout the evening there was consonance and dissonance, conventional and extended technique, loud and soft sounds, pretty and disturbing passages, all coexisting in an unfolding narrative.
After playing uninterrupted for an hour, during which we journeyed through a myriad of moods, textures and tempos, the crowd erupted in sustained applause. Evans told us to “go home and think about what you just heard.” But the crowd wanted more, and the band obliged with a stately, slightly melancholy encore.
Evans is a virtuoso who can do anything on the trumpet (and pocket trumpet.) At one point he removed the mouthpiece and blew directly into the instrument’s bore. Sometimes he produced sounds like a beatboxer; other times I heard a soprano saxophone. All of it was in service to the music.
Over the years, I’ve heard a good amount of music with electronic elements, but never have I been so moved by plugged in instruments. The electronics, provided by Lorenzo, Stabinsky and especially Sam Pluta, were so well integrated into the ensemble, I stopped caring who was making what sound, and how. A computer whiz who just started teaching composition at the University of Chicago, Pluta is the most advanced and musical laptopist I’ve encountered. His solo was articulate and rhythmically complex, with a dazzlingly variety of constantly changing sounds. For the first time, I heard the laptop and associated gear as a full-fledged and equal partner in a musical proceeding and not just as an agent of color and texture.
As Pluta settles into academia, Peter Evans, Jim Black and Mazz Swift are earning their living on the road. In fact, Swift is missing the last four shows in this nine-city tour so she can rejoin the Idina Menzel band, whose next stop is the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. A more recent addition to Evans’ ensemble, Swift told me how much she loved playing with this group, but alas, the paydays are as different as the music.
For me, getting to hang with the musicians and hear their backstories is one of the real pleasures of doing this work. Levy Lorenzo, the other more recent addition to the ensemble, met Evans through the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), one of today’s premier new music ensembles. (Lorenzo serves as the group’s technical director.) He earned his Masters in Mechanical and Computer Engineering from Cornell University, and after working for Bose, Lorenzo had had enough, and enrolled in a PhD program in classical percussion at Stony Brook University. He happened upon a class in improvisation taught by Ray Anderson and his life direction changed.
I first met pianist Ron Stabinsky when he would make the four-hour trip from near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to the Valley to hear concerts I produced by Borah Bergman, Cooper-Moore, Sam Rivers and others. Stabinsky, who recently replaced Peter Evans in the ensemble Mostly Other People Do the Killing, learned about the Taubman Approach when dealing with a piano-related injury. Developed decades ago by Dorothy Taubman, it is a groundbreaking analysis of the mostly invisible motions that function underneath a virtuoso technique. The resulting knowledge makes it possible to help pianists overcome technical limitations as well as cure playing-related injuries. Stabinsky has since become an expert.
The Peter Evans Ensemble will travel thousands of miles playing nine concerts in nine days. This grueling schedule under Spartan conditions is best suited for the young and the dedicated. They are both.