A 1995 CD release by the Orrin Evans Trio featuring Matthew Parrish and Byron Landham, and the tour in support of that recording, was 26 years in the making. The pianist Orrin Evans made The Trio (reissued in 2001 as Déjà Vu) with bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Byron Landham, but the career paths of these three active Philadelphians took them in disparate directions, and gigs never materialized. Incredibly, the Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares concert we heard at the Community Music School of Springfield on October 30th was part of their first ever tour.
Listening to this cohesive trio, one would never have guessed this was their first live go-round. Performing a mix of Evans originals and reconfigured standards, they were highly compatible and in perfect sync as they transfixed 70 intent listeners for over an hour on Saturday. Their Springfield concert was the last of a small tour, so they had some time to reacquaint themselves with the material. (A final show the next day at The Falcon in New York’s Hudson Valley was cancelled due to the sudden passing of Tony Falco, the club’s founder.)
The Robyn Newhouse Hall at the CMSS is the perfect setting for a piano trio: great sound, elegant venue, good sight lines, beautiful piano. And we heard a perfect piano trio, relaxed and ready to stretch out. There were fleet, up tempo burners like “Big Jimmy”, with the band’s bop chops on full display, and the evening’s finale, a poignant reading of Mr. Rogers’ “Good Feeling”, with Evans singing Fred Roger’s life-affirming lyrics. Because the melody was Evans’ own, the song’s identity only slowly dawned on us. Jazz Shares Vice President, Priscilla Page, reported tearing up.
Evans’ wonderful career includes Tarbaby (Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits), The Bad Plus (Reid Anderson and Dave King), his Captain Black Big Band and 28 recordings as a leader for Criss Cross, Posi-Tone, Smoke Sessions and his own Imani label. He exudes surety and style, and his piano playing has an infectious forward motion. I could see his shoulders and head moving with the music, allowing me to hear his ideas with even more clarity. He was dancing sitting down.
In the audience were Amherst College faculty members Darryl Harper and Sonia Clark, decades-long friends of the pianist, he from their Rutgers’ days. Also in the crowd was Fred Goodson and Margot Davis, old friends of Evans from Philly, resulting in a post-concert hang at Dewey’s on Worthington Street filled with the kind of comradery that makes it all worthwhile.
The trio we heard at CMSS is not as high-profile as some of Evans’ other bands. But profile has little to do with musicality, and Matthew Parrish and Byron Landham are living proof that there are great jazz musicians you never heard of in every large city in America. The trio’s long, if discontinuous, shared history was clear from the get-go, not only while swinging their asses off, but during numerous precipitous changes in tempo and mood. They were playing and listening.
Parrish, who teaches bass and leads ensembles at Princeton, took advantage of his ample solo space with articulate dexterity and a storyteller’s arc. His time and the ease with which he negotiated the music’s twists and turns were impeccable, and the sound he got from his instrument was rich and heard easily throughout the hall. (Kudos to sound engineer Steve Moser for a beautiful mix.) Byron Landham is spending the better part of November with organist Pat Bianchi’s Trio, opening for Steely Dan in concerts throughout the northeast, including the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. His drumming was crisp and rife with unexpected fills that propelled the music. Percussionists often use mallets to warm up ballads or provide atmospherics, so it was very exciting to hear Landham use them to make a full-scale solo statement with so much personality and variety.
Thanks to Orrin Evans for introducing us to two fabulous musicians, and for reminding us that friendship, long-term relationships and serious musicianship are the building blocks of a creative community. Those qualities were all front and center in Springfield on Saturday, and we were the lucky recipients.