This is, to quote a popular song, all about the bass. Track 7, ‘Monkey Mind’, is a good introduction to Evans’ approach to composition and playing. It begins with an extended, improvised solo that growls deeply and resolutely before the group pick up a strutting groove and the pieces unfolds around a simple, elegant theme.
Using a popular song to introduce this review is not just a way of referencing the instruments that she plays but also points to the fact that she has spent the past few years touring with Beyonce and Jay-Z. So the album provides an opportunity for her to switch musical styles from rap and soul to jazz. The set also showcases the compositional and arranging talents, of Evans and Roberts which range from jazz to more classical directions, such as track 3 ‘Prelude and Fugue in D Minor’, which develops a theme that has the richness of Bach with overdubbed clarinet and flute before shifting gear into ‘The Plunge’, where bass clarinet absolutely swings on top on a bop-inspired rhythm and swirling piano. This piece alone tells you that you are in the presence of musicians who know precisely what their instruments can do and that can compel their listeners to follow the twists and turns of the pieces being played. If anything, I was disappointed that the piece ended when it did – there felt a lot more than 3 and ½ minutes of tune here. This segues into Henry Mancini’s ‘Two for the Road’ (arranged by Roberts), which gives an effortless Cool interpretation of the theme that wouldn’t have been out of place of any of the West Coast albums of the late 1950s.
The other cover on the set is from Miles Davis’, ‘Serpent’s Tooth’ (arranged by Evans), which is the closing track and has a feel of the Birth of the Cool sessions in its arrangement; perhaps a little faster and with a little more of the higher registers, so that it is also harks back to earlier sounds in the history of jazz. This piece gives plenty of space of trumpet and bass saxophone to trade licks while retaining a rollicking groove. What I like most about this album is the way the Evans’ bass clarinet and saxophone create her own unique language, harking back to the 1950s while also maintaining a very real sense of the contemporary.