Peter Evans and Cory Smythe promise to take early jazz into the stratosphere | Bleader

Friday, February 28, 2014

Peter Evans and Cory Smythe promise to take early jazz into the stratosphere

Posted By on 02.28.14 at 02:00 PM

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This Sunday afternoon International Contemporary Ensemble presents the latest event in its OpenICE concert series at the Chicago Cultural Center. ICE, of course, is one the most adventurous and accomplished exponents of contemporary composition, but this weekend's concert veers toward raucous improvised music with a duet performance by trumpeter Peter Evans and pianist Cory Smythe. Both musicians are equally at home in many disparate contexts—from harrowing modern composition to modern jazz—and this event, billed as Early Jazz to White Noise, promises to draw on those expansive abilities.

According to the event's PR material, the musicians will "share the stage to weave a musical picture of jazz and improvised music past, present, and future. Using the music of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines as points of inspiration, Evans and Smythe are mesmerizing collaborators who have full command an enormous variety of musical styles at their fingertips." I have written extensively on Evans, whom I hear as the most technically accomplished trumpeter in jazz and improvised music since Wynton Marsalis. Unlike Wynton, however, he isn't interested in rooting his work in historical styles—he's an inveterate seeker, applying monster technique and abstract imagination to high-wire improvisation, risky compositional gambits, and, occasionally, cheeky postmodern collisions. On last year's Rocket Science (More is More) Evans documented a dazzling improvised performance at London's Vortex in 2012 with a diverse crew of collaborators: British free-improv icon and saxophonist Evan Parker; the mercurial, endlessly adaptable jazz pianist Craig Taborn; and the bracing laptop improvised (and key member of the bold New York new-music group Wet Ink Ensemble) Sam Pluta. The four extended pieces convey a strong ensemble feel, with a sublime level of integration. Evans deploys some of his crazy extended technique, but it's clear that making meaningful contributions to the rich group sound is his first priority.

More germane to Sunday's program, perhaps, is his playing on the most recent album by Mostly Other People Do the Killing. On last year's Red Hot (Hot Cup) the usual quartet was expanded to a septet, and bassist and bandleader Moppa Elliott shifted the stylistic focus from irreverent send-ups of the hard-bop era to irreverent deconstructions of traditional jazz (aka hot jazz). The core group—which also includes saxophonist Jon Irabagon and drummer Kevin Shea—have always diced up all kinds of styles to create their savvy simulacrums, and the latest album is no exception. In fact, the collisions are even more jarring. The opening track sounds lopsided from the get-go, with dissonant harmonies and wobbly rhythmic thrust undercutting the spry Dixieland polyphony. But then comes an Irabagon solo that channels John Coltrane, followed by a piano solo from Ron Stabinsky that's pure McCoy Tyner (the other members of the extended lineup are bass trombonist David Taylor and banjo player Brandon Seabrook). I've never known trad jazz to be in Evans's wheelhouse, but that's a foolish notion—this guy is such a quick study that it seems there's nothing he can't master. As you can hear below on the album's title track, Evans fits right in with a shape-shifting solo that flies through old-school slap bass and tenor banjo accompaniment, and then turns modern, running through a gauntlet of postbop chaos, with Seabrook unleashing some electronics-driven noise.

Whereas Evans is mostly associated with jazz and improvised music, I normally think of Smythe as a highly skilled, sensitive denizen of the contemporary classical world. He gives a breathtaking star turn on ICE's recent Xenakis: Ensemble Works 3 (Mode), nailing the thorny featured part on "Palimpsest," playing lines that alternate between thunderous, martial, jagged, and stately, slaloming deftly through a landscape of rigorous drumming and zigzagging brass and reeds (Evans plays trumpet throughout). He also lends empathic, spot-on support to the great violinist Hilary Hahn on her winning 2013 collection of short commissions called In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores (Deutsch Grammophon).

In the realm of jazz and improvised music Smythe has appeared on recordings by Tyshawn Sorey and Anthony Braxton, among others, but his most impressive work in this realm is probably his short 2011 solo album, Pluripotent. His pieces include concise shards of improvisation within often brooding frameworks. Some pieces employ subtle electronics and voice (the latter more as a textural element), but otherwise Smythe carves out his own sound world using only piano. Despite the free flow of ideas, there's a strong compositional logic at work, one that doesn't feel too far removed from contemporary classical music. Below you can check out the piece "Walls/Fats," although it refers only obliquely to the jazz greats referenced by its title.

I really have no idea where Evans and Smythe will take this program, but that's part of the appeal for me. I intend to find out for myself on Sunday afternoon.

Today's playlist:

William Brittelle, Loving the Chambered Nautilus (New Amsterdam)
Jutta Hipp, The Legendary Jutta Hipp Quintet (Fresh Sound)
Ghetto Brothers, Power Fuerza (Truth & Soul)
Lewis Nash Quintet, The Highest Mountain (Cellar Live)
Broken Bells, After the Disco (Columbia)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.

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