Review by Fiona Mactaggart
The free-flowing fluency of bass player Sam Bevan’s music is remarkable given the complexity of his compositions, and speaks of his wide-ranging musical background and the quality of the musicians he has chosen for this, his fourth CD release as leader. The buoyant feel, the numerous cheerful melodies, the asymmetries and quirky changes, and the confident organizational and rhythmic clarity offered by Bevan’s bass, makes this a standout jazz release of this year.
Bevan learned piano from a young age, in Salt Lake City, later adding vocals and double bass to his skill set. Moving to the San Francisco Bay area in 1999 he pursued a wide experience playing, composing and teaching. He has experienced multiple musical genres which can be detected in his own music, working with a variety of names such as Joe Locke, Joshua Redman, Zigaboo Modeliste, and the Bjorkestra. Emergence was recorded immediately prior to his most recent relocation to New York in 2016, his quintet including esteemed musician friends such as drummer Eric Garland and alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, at times augmenting the band for this album with several guests. Thus the final head count is ten.
All nine self-penned pieces on Emergence are beautiful, boisterous and uplifting, referencing various jazz greats. It is hard to choose favourites amongst them. The first track, “H & A” seems to reference Thelonious Monk, from an apparently simple and dramatic drum start, developing and brightening in mood almost organically as Knudsen’s sax floats above Bevan’s jaunty bassline.
The massively swinging “Sleepless in Suresnes” meanwhile could be seen to reference the Adderley brothers, with its numerous satisfying and often unusual changes, over the super – solid, forward charge of Bevan and Garland’s rhythm section.
“Grass,” following a peaceful start, showcases the group’s hard bop credentials, whilst the most obviously chord – free “Blues for CM”clearly evokes the spirit of Ornette Coleman.
Special mention should be made of the through-composed “Parallel Falcon,” again sounding very free, yet dense, and referencing African and Afro-Cuban rhythms. However almost two minutes in, the sounds fall away into mere fragments inter-relating across meditative spaces, before the piece segues into a completely new statement, with earlier and later sections ultimately joining near the end. A lovely and satisfying piece on many levels.
As for the quality of playing, this is uniformly excellent, laden with swoonsome solos, however the prize for gorgeousness of tone might well go to the bass clarinet players, Cory Wright and Patrick Cress, their contribution adding to this album’s singular overall sound. Just listen to Wright on the final track, “Nellowee’s Walz.”
Bevan has composed and delivered a highly accomplished, ‘modern jazz’ album which is a joy to listen to and is surely one of the most successful US jazz albums to come out this year.