Excelling on clarinet from the age of 11, Evan Christopher went on to study music and graduated at the California State University, moving to New Orleans in the 90s for the first of his residential stays over the years. He studied early New Orleans jazz and the broad-ranging and cosmopolitan musical development which ensued in the city, particularly the influence of native Creole traditions.
His own playing has absorbed the influence of classic Creole clarinet masters such as Noone, Simeon, Bigard and Bechet. However, whilst retaining firm Creole roots, and identifying with its rich legacy and expressive tonal vibrancy, he seeks to develop and extend the essentially New Orleans clarinet style into fresh, challenging and more varied present-day settings.
In his excellent Django A La Creole recordings he successfully applied a Creole-styled approach to gypsy swing, remembering Reinhardt’s post-Grappelli recordings with clarinettist Hubert Rostaing.
Evan’s outlook is equally open-minded in this latest recording, which includes a late Fats Waller composition and a Billy Strayhorn special for Johnny Hodges, together with diversely styled originals. The CD contains highlights from a live concert performance in duet with New Orleans pianist David Torkanowsky, recorded at Luthjen’s, site of an historic New Orleans dance hall.
The clarinet playing is impressively expressive, ranging from nuanced sensitivity to piping, free-wheeling rhythmic drive, with supple and interesting phrasing which is meaningful rather than just decorative. His tone is full and warmly woody in classic Creole style – possibly from the Albert simple system clarinet once spotted for him by Kenny Davern, a former mentor.
Pianist David Torkanowsky lays down an ideal, full and versatile backing, moving confidently between raunchy funky blues rhythms and meditative, sophisticated balladry and providing skilled, close rapport in the detailed arrangements. Sometimes layered, these feature shifting changes in tempo and rhythm, exploring a variety of interesting musical ideas, and giving some tracks the feel of a single unified continuous composition.
An outstanding and particularly interesting release, showing creative development flourishing from sound jazz roots.
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans; Sid’s Biz; Make Me A Pallet On The Floor; Rollin’ The Jernt; Melody For Jaco; Jitterbug Waltz; Pouncing Around; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Big Greaze; Valse Marignaise (from the Faubourg Variations) (51.47)
Evan Christopher (cl); David Torkanowsky (p). Luthjen’s, New Orleans, 10 January 2020.