There have been dozens of interesting musicians moving to NOLA in the last few years, none more so than reedman/composer James Evans. His most accessible gigs are at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, where he fits in at the far edge of traditional jazz. The Golden Whippet of Algiers is something altogether different.
It’s a compliment to say this album of 13 originals is hard to compare to anything else. The swing-era maverick Raymond Scott comes to mind, or perhaps Spike Jones’ madcap artistry but with more smarts. It has Ellingtonian touches to the horn arranging, but you wouldn’t confuse it with the Duke: no piano here and 1950s–60s harmonic arranging but with banjo.
Evans exploits the comic potential of his players: Charlie Halloran’s blatting trombone, Jason Marsalis’ woodblock, guitarist Georgi Petrov’s use of harmonics, the clarinets of Evans, Aurora Nealand and Gregory Agid playing at the very top of their registers. The pieces are constantly changing meter, inventing new timbres and exploiting a wide range of dynamics in a very refreshing way.
“Kournikova Bending Over,” “Pigeon, Pigeon,” “Nightmare Blues from Hell,” “I’ll Never Love an Udder”—Evans’ drollery extends to the song titles. The CD is almost unrelentingly comic, and this is its only drawback. Jazz lovers will listen with delight and occasional amazement, and enjoy the craziness. Evans is a singular player and composer.