Peter Evans/Steve Beresford/Okkyung Lee

June 28, 2009

Check for Monsters
Emanem 5002

Peter Evans/Tom Blancarte
Creative Sources CS 119 CD

One of a crop of younger players who are slowly redefining the trumpet’s role and range, New York-based Peter Evans stands out. Classically trained, his use of the piccolo trumpet as well as the regular model allows him to access the minimalist aspects of other experimentalists without neglecting the literal brassy qualities which have been the trumpet’s raison d’etre since the days of John Philip Sousa and Louis Armstrong.

As a matter of fact, there are portions of Check for Monsters where his interaction with British pianist Steve Beresford could be an off-the-wall updating of Armstrong’s late 1920s duets with pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines. Followers of Classic Jazz are unlikely to be making a bee line for this or the other disc though, since the improvisational tropes will never be confused for “Muskrat Ramble” or “The Washington Post” march for that matter. At the same time Evans, who also works in contemporary and Baroque so-called classical settings, somehow manages in his playing to extract from his horn textures that ordinarily would be linked to the saxophone. It may be bravura, but the timbres also reflect upon the dual history of those instruments and the saxophone’s birth as part of brass marching bands.

No slouch himself when it comes to outputting percussive measures from his instrument, a few of London-based Beresford’s runs here relate back from free improvisation to honky-tonk chording, not to mention syncopated versions of classically-oriented marches. The pianist, whose playing partners over the years have included drummer Han Bennink, saxophonist John Butcher as well as stints composing film soundtracks, is perfectly adaptable. The third “monster checker” is Korean-born, New York-based, cellist Okkyung Lee who often utilizes extended techniques from her classical background in situations involving dancers and chorographers as well as free improv. Meanwhile, the other half of the [sparks] duo is another New Yorker, bassist Tom Blancarte. A fully committed improviser, his initial influences were Metallica [!] and Black Sabbath [!!].

One may wish that some of those bands’ heavy metal assertiveness beefed up Lee’s inhibited work on Monsters, however. Every spirited sul tasto scratch or sweeping connective slice audible from her cello faces more upfront textures from the other two. Throughout the oddly named pieces the pianist sways and pumps high frequency chords, paced piano thumps and kinetic cadenzas. Meanwhile the trumpeter displays whinnying counter tones, internal breath squeaks, patterning tongue slaps and burbling tones. Over and over, at various speeds, Evans’ triplet exposure and capriccios of staccato timbres rub up against Beresford’s improvisations.

As a change of pace “Gwendol ap Siencyn” is low-key and balladic at the beginning, with piano clusters and brief arpeggios until Beresford’s preoccupation opens up into emphasized cross tones. Finally Lee’s splintering spiccato moves upfront as Evans aggressively gooses the tempo for a nearly limitless series of shrieks and note division, Lee responds in kind with multi-stopping – scrubbing and vibrating her strings – then the pianist bringing things to the end with pseudo boogie-woogie runs.

Recorded two years earlier, the duo with Blancarte is a different matter. The seven improvisations with Gnostic titles similarly bewildering as those on the other CD seem to be more of a meeting of equals. Suggesting that a youth digging Geddy Lee and John Paul Jones may not be completely misspent, the bassist produces powerful tones in a variety of times and tempos. Blancarte’s broken octave stops not only pump up rhythmic responses, but also include enough shuffle bowing and sul ponticello movements to demonstrate that Evans’ output doesn’t overawe him. Abrasively rubbing the bull fiddle’s thick strings if faced with Evans’ multiphonic brays, the bassist’s game plan seems invariably to respond chromatically so the tunes’ basic movement remains evident.

Concentrating on the piccolo trumpet, Evans’ solos are hocketing, rubato and studded with grace notes. Additionally, they’re equally spectacular whether muted to growled interface; slurred saxophone-like from within the capillary cavity; studded with tongue slaps that sound like pistol shots; or include so many tones and timbres that he appears able to sound a cavalry charge and “reveille” simultaneously.

Notable exhibition of the trumpeter’s art, these CDs add to Evans’ growing discography, while recent reports indicate that more extravagant brass feats are in the offing.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: sparks: 1. Xangu 2. Summanus 3. Ukonvasara 4. Mulungu 5. Kw-Uhnx-Wa 6. Ishkur 7. Ajisukitakahikone

Personnel: sparks: Peter Evans (piccolo trumpet) and Tom Blancarte (bass)

Track Listing: Monsters: 1. Phacthio 2. Yinothanot 3. Egokrlo-nar 4. Gwendol ap Siencyn

Personnel: Monsters: Peter Evans (piccolo trumpet and trumpet); Steve Beresford (piano) and Okkyung Lee (cello)