Baritone sax savant Charles Evans is really good at taming this brash, acerbic horn and transforming it into a conduit of emotion and musical purpose. So much so, that he needed no stinkin’ rhythm section when he paired up with childhood friend and pianist Neil Shah and recorded Live At St. Stephens at some old church in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania a few years ago. More than two years later Evans is again set to release a set of recordings made without percussion and exploiting the sublime acoustics of that same St. Stephens church.
Subliminal Leaps adjusts the plot from Evans’ previous chapter: Shah is replaced by Steven Wilson-lookalike Ron Stabinsky, and Tony Marino’s bass is added. But the most significant addition is the soprano sax by one of its best known and regarded living performers, David Liebman.
Evans’ avant leanings on the prior record were just that, leanings; Leaps is a leap into the abyss. He’s clearly inspired to take more chances with the presence of another sax, in particular, Liebman’s penetrating sax. A dreary mood dominates “Dreamed-Out March,” but there’s an intriguing conversation between Evans and Liebman. It’s remarkable how Evans can at times sound like Liebman and blend in so well with him. The dirge mood is lifted toward the end of the song with a return to theme at a faster, lighter gait.
Liebman nimbly straddles the fine line between tonality and atonality for the appropriately titled “Certain Soprano,” while the Evans/Liebman drawn-out unison figures are remarkably seamless during “Mahler Method,” given the contrasting timbre qualities of the saxes involved. Later on, Stabinsky serves up tastefully angular, classically tinged figures. “Interruptions” features the low, considered rumblings from Marino’s bass, while inspired group improvisation defines the first part of “Subliminal Leaps” and an urgent baritone solo from Evans keys the latter part.
Against a mostly barren sonic backdrop, Subliminal Leaps is intuitively inspired and immaculately captured. Attentive playing among all participants makes the mostly free jazz safari measured and purposeful, too. Charles Evans is not one to play it safe, and that he can take David Liebman out to the outer edge of jazz with him says much about both the confidence and the gumption of a very talented rising star.
Subliminal Leaps will be released September 10, by More Is More Records.