Even as Bill Evans has fronted multiple ensembles of his own over the course of his career, the saxophonist/composer/multi-instrumentalist has also contributed mightily to the work of other notable musicians, including that of Miles Davis and John McLaughlin plus the latter-day Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule. It diminishes the effort behind Rise Above to say he’s calling in favors, but this latest recording under his own name is distinguished by the presence of many other players who elevate the proceedings to the same extent as Evans has in his reciprocal collaborations.
And that’s no small statement to make either given how Evans, during the course of each of these ten tracks on this twenty-fourth record under his own name, simultaneously becomes part of the band and retains his individuality. But the corollary to the modesty that allows the former is the authority necessary to fulfill the role of that latter’ simultaneously acting as bandleader and participant. Evans’ presence provides continuity that bonds the variety of material, as well as the rotating cast of musicians, throughout Rise Above.
First and foremost, Evans is savvy enough to accurately tailor the tracks to the guests. The prog-heavy rock instrumental “Tales of a Shiny Devil,” features Umphrey’s McGee guitarist Jake Cinninger. “Right Lady” sounds like a selection direct from one of modern soulman J.J. Grey’s own album’s with Mofro and Evans’ sax is prominent virtually from the start of that track. That’s also true of the title-tune, an electric/acoustic blues-soul number vocalist/guitarist Warren Haynes would no doubt have been proud to include on his solo album Man in Motion: Evans has developed his own voice and approach on this instrument, avoiding the predictable here by weaving inside, outside and around the melody as well as the other components of the arrangement, including punchy horns and Haynes’ slide work.
The enhanced comfort level within that collaboration derives no doubt from the writing between Haynes and Evans—the latter wrote or wrote this whole album except the sole cover, a spirited cover of Buddy Miles’ classic “Them Changes—as well as the presence on the cut of Warren’s partner in Gov’t Mule, Danny Louis, on Hammond B3 organ. Likewise, the partnership of The Duo, keyboardist Marco Benevento and drummer Joe Russo, aids in the ignition of percolation on“Slow Rollin’ Ride,” where NOLA resident Anders Osborne’s vocal rivals the sultry guts of Gregg Allman’s on “Love Is Working Overtime.”
Evincing a healthy empathy with the icon of Dixie rock in composing the latter tune, Evans presents a real life slant in those lyrics as wry as his extended horn solo, one of the few he takes during the course of Rise Above. But then Bill doesn’t need to indulge himself, or really have the luxury of doing so, in part because he also played the role of engineer in addition to his assumption of other aforementioned duties of composing, playing and band-leading for Rise Above. And although there is though there is no specific credit for same, presumably Bill Evans was deeply involved in producing the album too, so he deserves additional kudos for the well-sequenced track-list, concluding with the somewhat somber but nonetheless wholly appropriate finality of “Every Once in a While (Things Got to Give).”
A versatile role model for all the esteemed names dotting the credits here, including guitarists Scott Metzger and Mike Stern plus Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone, Bill Evans’ supervision kept music the priority over personality here, which is why an authentic r&b jazz flavor permeates Rise Above from start to finish, turning it into an artistic statement of no small note.