The inaugural Captain Black Big Band record was one of the best jazz releases of 2011, a burst of rollicking horn charts and incendiary energy. Mother’s Touch, the follow-up, is equally strong, lending sophistication to the band’s vigor and introducing soulful big-band sounds and gorgeous piano work.
Part of this emphasis shift is incidental: The debut was collection of live dates, while Mother’s Touch is a purposefully tailored studio project. Another factor is the more dominant influence of leader-pianist Orrin Evans (aka Captain Black), who composed the first four and final two of the nine songs and clears more space for his own playing to emerge.
The lead track, “In My Soul,” meshes the rich big-band horn sound of Charles Mingus and Oliver Nelson with the deep but sprightly soul-blues of Ray Charles and Count Basie. Its companion piece arrives three songs later with the soulfully serene “Dita,” an exquisitely calming, poignantly nuanced variation on a classic big-band ballad. Mother’s Touch also has its fair share of fire and brimstone, often sparked by tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard, whose scalding tone and slithery phrasing shivers through the horn section on Donald Edwards’s “Tickle.” She also swaps incisive riffs with baritonist Mark Allen and altoist Tim Green on the closing anthem, “Prayer For Columbine.”
Other noteworthy covers include the playfully burbling “Water Babies” by Wayne Shorter, arranged by and starring trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt, and a flexible take on the cerebral Eric Revis tune, “Maestra,” backboned by Evans and his rhythm section cohorts Luques Curtis on bass and Anwar Marshall on drums. And don’t sleep on Evans’s “Explain it to Me,” featuring a whirlpooling soprano sax line by Marcus Strickland and some African beats from guest timekeeper Ralph Peterson.