The brief 'Prelude,' awash in brooding strings, kicks off "Evolution" in an eyebrow-raising manner. This through-composed piece actually sets the tone for the entire CD which features Gordon's string arrangements and orchestrations developed with the assistance of trombonist Alan Ferber (whose regular group provides the backing for most of these tracks). The pensive, minor-key title track seems to emerge from 'Prelude' in an organic fashion, with Matt Clohesy's churning bass line leading the way. Soloing over the strings, Mark Ferber's understated yet dynamic drum patter, and Sean Wayland's superb piano comping, Gordon's keening, acrobatic alto sounds uncannily like Ornette Coleman's on 'Skies Of America.' Wayland follows with a sparkling, dynamic solo of his own. 'Currents' is similar, but taken at a somewhat slower tempo, without strings, and with Kristin Berardi's wordless vocals added to the front line. Berardi's voice blends extremely well with the horns and strings, but also stands on its own in stark contrast to great effect. Both the strings and Berardi appear on the other ensemble pieces, which are no less gripping and blend Gordon's inventive jazz melodies with a subtly funky, off-kilter M-Base rhythmic feel, dark and complex harmonies, and emotionally charged soloing. Doug Yates' knotty, quirky bass clarinet solo cadenza breaks the CD-closing 'Individuation' out of the somewhat melancholic feeling shared by the other pieces. The theme, replete with joyous stabs of strings and horns gives way to an exultant duo improvisation by Gordon and trombonist Alan Ferber. Here, I was reminded a bit of some of Dave Holland's work with larger ensembles.
"Evolution" also features another through-composed string trio ('Contemplation') and two telepathic duets with pianist Bill Charlap ('Shane' and 'One For Liam'). The duets with Charlap - who's recorded entire CDs with Gordon as a duet partner - are the most purely 'jazz' pieces on "Evolution." Yet, they represent interesting departures from the world of standards and swing that many such duets seem to inhabit. 'One For Liam' has a strong rhythmic thrust and pits a relatively sweet melody versus somewhat sour piano chords. 'Shane' is slower and somewhat elegiac, with Gordon on soprano. On both pieces, Charlap and Gordon share the solo space conversationally, trading phrases and backing each other up with little riffs and motifs, rather than just taking turns in the time-honored jazz tradition.