Drummer Donald Edwards has appeared on quite a few albums of note in the last few years, including discs by pianist Orrin Evans (Flip the Script and …It Was Beauty), alto saxophonist Dayna StephensToday is Tomorrow, two albums with trombonist Conrad Herwig (A Jones for Bones Tones and A Voice Through the Door), two with the group Opus 5 (featuring trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, saxophonist Seamus Blake, keyboardist David Kikoski and bassist Boris Kozlov). His debut album as a leader, Evolution of an Influenced Mind, came out last week on the Criss Cross Jazz label (buy it from Amazon).

On Evolution of an Influenced Mind, Edwards is joined by saxophonist Walter Smith III, guitarist David Gilmore (note the spelling; not the Pink Floyd guy), and the other two members of the same trio that made …It Was Beauty: pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Eric Revis. It begins with a surprise, though. “American Drum Call to Mama” is a two-minute intro for drums and haunted, gospel-ish male and female vocals. It serves as a call to listener awareness, instantly setting this album apart from any other mainstream jazz release of the moment. Which is a good thing, because Evolution is an album you want to pay attention to. Gilmore in particular is consistently surprising, switching from a reverbed-out, post-Bill Frisell lonesome-on-the-prairie sound on “Niecee,” to delicate, almost harp-like acoustic playing on “The Dream,” to an effects-heavy tone, almost like an electric piano, on “History of the Future.” Of course, no one else is slouching here. Smith—who plays impressive, lightning-fast melodies in unison with the guitarist, most notably on “The Essential Passion”—goes hard, too. His phrases are fleet and smooth, but there’s grit and urgency in his playing, as though the notes are forcing themselves out of his body at times.

Orrin Evans is an interesting pianist. On his own albums, he can be almost militantly down-the-middle, never too free, but never dissolving all the way into cocktail bullshit, either. In the meantime, with Tarbaby (which also features Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits), he lets the jagged edges of his sound poke through. Here, the eclecticism and rhythmic variety—no surprise, on an album led by a drummer—allow him to explore a wide range of styles and approaches, from the most ECM-ish atmospheres on softer tracks to florid, free jazz-meets-Chicago-house work on the penultimate track “Not Really Gumbo,” on which Edwards moves the band into an almost disco-funk zone, as Gilmore’s guitar shifts between choppy one-chord vamping and fierce, biting solos. Evolution… ends with “Truth or Consequence,” a hard-swinging workout built around another one of the intricate saxophone-guitar melodies mentioned above, but leaving plenty of room for Evans, too; his solo packs almost as much raw force as the bandleader’s drumming, which is some of the most tense on the album.

Phil Freeman

Stream Evolution of an Influenced Mind on Spotify:

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