Gabe Evens: The Wrong Waltz

by Elberton Cisnero

An Assistant Professor of Jazz Piano, Composition and Arranging at the University of Louisville, Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies Program, Gabe Evens is a pianist with a vivacious and full-bodied approach to composing and playing, his facility on piano and grasp of harmony is enlightened.  His latest endeavor The Wrong Waltz is ten wholly-original compositions for the piano trio setting, with a varied demonstration of bebop, hard-bop, fusion, and modal genres. The music is poignant, and offers unforeseen paths, but still conveys strong moods, and boundless ideas.

Bassist, Lynn Seaton and drummer Ed Soph join Evens, in constructing a fine balance of sophisticated, flowing improvisations. Evens is thoughtful and builds each tune with memorable climaxes. His work on The Wrong Waltz is among the finest feats of extraordinary breadth and nobility – certainly on the piano. One of the most striking aspects of Evens’ approach to piano music is his inerrant sense of timing. There is no rush, every sparkling detail is savored at leisure, without a trace of decadent indulgence.

Lyrical passages, such as those played on “Something Like Love,” so often defeated by the weight of misplaced rubato, here speak with an earnest ardor, lending them a disarming youthful freshness. That said, tempos are amply pliant and rubato, when applied, is richly fertile. The rhythmic spine of the material always remains intact, so that rhetorical thrust is never lost to detail. (Here, having both Lynn Seaton on bass and Ed Soph on drums helps enormously). Finally, Evens’ presto leggiero in fioritura passages is never short of perfection.

The scrupulously observed dotted semiquaver/demisemiquaver figures in “Loud, Quiet, Loud in Blue,” the heroic-elegiac passages on “Billy Strayhorn” fix the character and dignity of each piece with utmost flawlessness. Feather-like pianissimo glissando’s in the playful “Yoko and the Spotless, Spotless Clan” are brilliantly executed, while the sustained resonances of the notes disperse into the air like pungent incense. Shapeliness characterizes “The Goodbye Hug,” its opening declamations bold and square-shouldered rather than strident.

Most remarkable throughout the program is how the entire lassaú of the works unfolds in an integral, coherent whole, rather than the stopping and starting of a series of mini-climaxes. Lest we forget that this is a trio recording and not a solo piano one, recognition must go to Seaton and Soph, the former playing pizzicato and arco with extraordinary facility and greater ingenuity, while both emerge as highly individualistic players whose enigmatic utterances are like smouldering fire that affords considerable heat.

These are fresh, strikingly original works for piano and played with remarkable definition in a trio setting by a group of musicians who have invested considerable magic in these opulently evocative pieces which will surely be welcomed as unique, in 21st century piano literature.

Tracks to sample first: “Tease Me,” “Billy Strayhorn,” and “The Goodbye Hug.” The song to take a chance on is “Keep Your Head Down.”

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