This is an entertaining and satisfying set by an unusually good piano trio. Veteran Orrin Evans has played for years with Bobby Watson's group. Here he does five of the saxophonist's tunes, four of his own and "Why Not" by D. Warren. The moods range widely from the tropical lushness of Watson's "Love Remains" to the Monkish "Two Steppin with Dawn," best of the Evans originals.
Evans is seldom out of the spotlight, but the trio is tightly integrated. Only 27, bassist Luques Curtis is the solid foundation. Nasheet Waits, a drummer who has begun to attract a lot of knowledgeable attention, is more assertive but always in a good cause. Unlike modern drummers who drop odd bombs and solo from the beginning to the end of an arrangement, the active Waits is more partner than competitor. His colorful additions echo the rhythm of Evans's melodic line or intensify changes in the trio's dynamics and groove.
The three-way interplay is particularly rich on "Wheel Within a Wheel" and "Matthews Song;" the arrangements display a bit of the intricate sophistication of classical music without losing the swinging freedom of jazz.
A hard-driving version of Watson's "Appointment in Milano" is another winner. It features Waits at his most aggressive, but Evans and Curtis hold their own, even when the mood is at its wildest. In a good example of album pacing, "Beatitudes" follows. The only piano solo, it is introspective and mildly abstract.
Evans cites a raft of influences, famous and obscure, many of them non-pianists. He has incorporated bits of each in a versatile style of his own, demonstrated here in one of the year's best trio outings. It's not easy to attract attention amidst the swarm of veterans and terrific young players like Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer and Luis Perdomo, but this album makes a strong case for adding Orrin Evans to your list.