Steve Evans
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Steve Evans

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""Powerhouse...enroute to rivaling the dynamism of fellow Chicagoan Kurt Elling."

Christopher Loudon, Jazz Times, June 2007

Our CD shelves are sagging with great contemporary female vocalists, extending from Allyson (as in Karrin) to Wilson (as in Cassandra and Nancy). But the number of male counterparts continues to lag far behind, which makes this sophomore release from Steve Evans most welcome, particularly since Evans continues to eschew the Rat Pack-wannabe path followed by so many of his peers, opting instead to shape a much more intriguing and inventive musical journey. Indeed, 2 Sets, the powerhouse follow-up to his standards-based eponymous debut, suggest that he might be en route to rivaling the dynamism of fellow Chicagoan Kurt Elling.

Some may find it a tad pretentious that Evans has opted to deliver this 15-track session, which could easily have fit on a single CD, across two discs. But, as he explains in the liner notes, this was originally intended, two years ago, as a live recording. When technical difficulties aborted that plan, Evans says he “wanted to record something that would still contain the live sound that is so often lost in the studio,” so recorded these two sets “as in a concert setting. The goal was to hit the “record” button, start at the beginning of Set 1, and keep going until that particular set was finished.” No listening back, no overdubbing, no pitch fixing, and not a single redo. So, two half-hour sets build around Evans distinctive sound rumbling, full-bodied voice that suggests rough-sanded oak and a compellingly inventive playlist.

Stellar selections from the Nick Drake and Tom Waits songbooks fill nearly half the tracks, including Drake’s pensively optimistic “River Man” and gently self-affirming “Things Behind the Sun,” plus a treatment of Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon” as decadently vibrant as Mardi Gras and an equally spirited “The Part You Throw Away.” As for standards, Evans here favors mellow ballads, with stunning readings of “There’s a Lull in My Life,” Ill Wind” and “The Night We Called It a Day” that suggests the detached intimacy of Chet Baker, then takes a 90-degree turn for a delightfully different interpretation of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” from the Fantasticks, that’s filled with cloud-bursting ebullience.
- Jazz Times


""An interpretive black belt, on the same level of Kurt Elling and Tierney Sutton...daring and refreshing.""

J. Hunter, All About Jazz, December 2007

According to the liner notes for 2 Sets, the Steve Evans Quartet attempted a live recording in 2005, but the effort was marred by “technical difficulties”; that could mean anything form a persistently-buzzing amplifier to some guy near the stage who wouldn’t stop talking on his cell phone. Rather than try to tape another gig (preferably someplace where cell phone are confiscated at the door), vocalist Evans decided to “re-create” the show in a Chicago recording studio.

Evans placed strict rules on the session to keep everyone’s mind in “performance mode.” When the “Record” button was pressed, the Evans Quartet played until the first set was finished—no stopping mid-tune, no re-takes, no going back and listening to individual songs—and then repeated the process after a fifteen-minute break. Evans allowed no overdubbing or pitch-fixing and, in order to “create a built-in intermission as in a live performance,” the final product comes on two separate discs. How Evans is going to handle people downloading the music to their iPod is another question.

2 Sets contains music Sinatra would love: Harold Arlen’s mournful “Ill Wind” and Percy Heath’s hilarious “Lost Mind” comes right down the middle, with Evans skillfully riding arrangements as standard as the standards themselves. It’s the non-jazz composers Evans chooses that sets this collection apart. Three songs form star-crossed singer/songwriter Nick Drake get the royal treatment, the most notable being a quietly pulsing version of “River Man.” Drake’s takes on life and love go perfectly with the street poetry of Tom Waits, who also gets three tracks. Evans pairs Rodrigo’s mediation “Concierto de Aranjuez” with Van Morrison’s “The Way Young Lovers Do,” and happily jazzes up Tom Jones’ “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.” And when was the last time you heard a jazz singer tackle Benjamin Britten?

It’s a good thing Evans had to move into the studio, because he gets better when he gets nuanced. His light strumming on a cavaquinho (basically a Portuguese ukulele) gives Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon” a wonderfully mysterious opening, and the spare instrumentation behind “Things Behind the Sun” lets Evans give Drake’s cautionary lyric the love it deserves. Evans’ choice of material is both daring and refreshing, and the chemistry he shares with his three partners is outstanding. Jake Vinsel’s bass is a fine foil to Evans’ reedy tenor, while drummer Noritaka Tanaka and pianist Leandro Lopez Varady help stretch the canvas so Evans can paint his pictures.

The be blunt, the two-disc package is a conceit: Evans admits the music could fit onto one disc, so without the liner notes detailing the trouble it took to replace concert conditions, the listener would never know the difference. Nonetheless, Evans is an interpretive black belt on the same level as Kurt Elling and Tierney Sutton. If the quality of the original performance was as good as the music on 2 Sets, then someone should find the guy on the cell phone and take away his Bluetooth.
- All About Jazz


""A completely unique fusion of academic technique and the power of the voice, of jazz intonation and repertoire, ...outstandingly creatively courageous.""

Leonard Auskern, Jazz Square, Minsk, 2007

Translated form Russian by Jill Doherty

I don’t have the statistics at hand but, judging by the discs with jazz vocals which one has occasion to listen to, the correlation between female vocalists and male vocalists is about eight to one. For this reason, every new meeting with a male jazz vocal, by definition, is intriguing and if it’s a new name, even more so.

Steve Evans is a new name. This young vocalist lives and works in Chicago, which immediately forces one to remember his famous countryman Kurt Elling, but Steve sings completely differently. His manner of singing is completely different, too, from that of Kevin Mahogany who taught Steve jazz singing for two years at the celebrated Berklee College of Music. Steve’s vocalizing is a completely unique fusion of academic technique and the power of the voice, of jazz intonation and repertoire, primarily oriented toward the creativity of the best bards of rock.

Evans began studying the art of classical singing, then got interested in the theater, studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, worked with the Russian master of theater George Zhdanov and Slava Dolgachev, and only then returned to jazz, the impetus for which was the album he just happened to buy with the recording of John Coltraine and Johnny Hartman.

This album of two discs, modestly named “Two Sets,” was recorded in July of this past year. As already mentioned above, one immediately notices the selection of compositions for the album which I can only evaluate as outstandingly creatively courageous. Three songs of Nick Drake and Tom Waits are on the program (Steve’s performance of Jockey Full of Bourbon by Waits is my personal favorite on the album,) compositions of Arto Lindsay, Van Morrison, Milton Nacimento (a deep bow in the direction of Latin jazz, indeed Steve performs it in the original language.) The most unusual track of the album is Corpus Christi Carol of the great 20th century British composer Benjamin Britten. This piece reminds one that Steve began his journey in art with classical singing Evans, a new name for us in jazz singing, was immediately able to mark his creative niche and demonstrate his brilliant individuality. It’s an extremely varied and interesting album, only the second for Steve and the first to which we are introducing our readers, forcing us to wait with enthusiasm for new encounters with this singer.
- Jazz Square, Minsk


""Evans embodies all the virtues of a modern vocalist.""

JazzIt, April 2008

Translated from Italian by Giovanni Giuriati

Steve Evans embodies all the virtues of a modern vocalist. Gifted with a clear voice along all the vocal extensions, with a great malleability. He has a certain tendency toward a more mielose (like dark honey and wine) interpretation, and exciting vocal ripples. The repertoire is Pop in the most noble sense but is performed in a jazz manner. The musicians around him (all excellent) work like crazy to give every piece the right accompaniment and sought after originality which is the signature of this collection. Evans also has a charming, acidulous timbre on the high notes, is more wrapping on the low notes, and is captivating when is left with only breath.
- JazzIt


""In Steve Evans we may have found a new star.""

Elio Bussolino, Rockerilla, January 2008 (translated form Italian by Giovanni Giuriati)

Mom and Dad wanted to make him a tenor, his teachers a prose actor: but in the end it was jazz which conquered his talents and valued his wide and cultured musical vision. In him and his quartet of virtuosi one hears a striking recording debut.

It is a bit unorthodox to anticipate judgment: yet we are incapable of overstating our surprise upon hearing this recording that, as one learns form the liner notes, was not supposed to be a typical studio session. Born as a live project, 2 Sets maintained the completely frank and unconstrained approach of four musicians toward a repertoire form the most eclectic and demanding that one can interpret in a jazz key. This young Chicago musician embodies class and sensitivity, and reunites himself with the blasé elegance of a Mel Torme, the lyricism of a Jeff Buckley, and the velvet timbre of a less corn and easy-going Michael Buble.

In Steve Evans we may have found a new star.
- Rockerilla


""Indeed it would not be an exaggeration to note that Evans' debut as a bona-fide jazz singer is the most exciting since Kurt Elling hit the scene in the early 1990s.""

Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune, August 2002

Accomplished young male jazz singers are not easy to find these days, but a particularly promising one happens to be based in Chicago.

A few years ago, Steve Evans was a fledgling vocalist who decided that he needed to learn a lot more about the art of jazz. So he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studied improvisational technique and recently returned to Chicago, which long has served as a launching pad for dynamic young talent.

The singer, who has opened a month long engagement at Pops for Champagne, clearly has transformed himself. Though there’s no mistaking the earlier hallmarks of his work – including a warm timbre and a light, lyric tone – his ability to finesse fast-moving bebop lines and to create distinctly individual phrasings has improved dramatically.

Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to note that Evans’ debut as a bona fide jazz singer is the most exciting since Kurt Elling appeared on the local scene in the mid-1990s. But if Elling drew deeply on the work of Mark Murphy, Evans has found inspiration in the art of an earlier stylist, Mel Torme.

Or at least there’s no ignoring the similarities in sound and style between the two singers. Like Torme, Evans commands an uncommonly nimble instrument that also proves effective in ballads. One also can detect the influence of Jon Hendricks, but every male scat singer working today has had to come to terms with Hendricks’ stylistic and technical achievements.

If Evans seemed to open a recent set somewhat nonchalantly, with a medium-swing version of “Where or When,” the sleekness of his vocal lines and the élan of his phrasings were harder to attain than casual listeners might have realized. And in Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi,” Evans’ decision to reach for notes an octave higher than his natural register pointed to an artist unafraid of novel interpretations.

Most contemporary jazz singers want to prove their mettle in uptempo tours de force, and Evans did so exceptionally well in Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail” (with lyrics by Hendricks). Taking the showpiece at a brisk clip, Evans articulated fast-flying sixteenth notes with apparent ease. Equally important, he captured the rhythmic buoyancy and exuberance that the tune demands. With each number, Evans sounded more self-assured, producing a remarkably polished account of “Spring is Here” and an unabashedly idiosyncratic version of “Moody’s Mood for Love.”

Some of the most disarming music of the set was penned by Evans and pianist Esteban Sehinkman, who have the makings of a hit with bluesy romp they call “Spare Change.”
- Chicago Tribune


Discography

All full length releases:
2003 "Steve Evans" (Debut CD)
2006 "2 Sets"
2009 "9"

Many of the tracks off of "2 Sets" have rotating radio play.

Photos

Bio

The road leading to vocal jazz has been long and varied for Chicago based singer, Steve Evans. A boy soprano, Evans spent his childhood singing in front of the congregation. He was a classically trained vocalist throughout his teen years and as a student of the Interlochen Arts Academy, groomed for the Opera. This was not to be. Evans found the music too confining and believed his real passion lay in acting. The pursuit of this craft led him to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and from there to an apprenticeship with Russian theater icon George Schdanoff (co-creator of the Michael Chekhov technique). Fueled by the discipline of the Russian artists Evans sought out Slava Dolgechev, renowned director of the Moscow Art Theater, and spent three terms studying the work of Stanislavski with him. At about this time he happened into a small record store in the middle of nowhere and heard the classic album "John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman" playing. Needless to say this music changed the course of his life.
In order to fully embrace the new world that was opening up for him he knew he would need a complete understanding of jazz theory,harmony, piano, and arranging. After being invited to study at both the Manhattan School of Music and The Berklee College of Music, he opted for the latter.
It turned out to be the right choice as he was offered the opportunity to spend two years along side of celebrated jazz vocalist Kevin Mahogany as his chief instructor. After leaving Berklee Mr. Evans placed himself in the middle of Chicago’s thriving jazz scene and has been a mainstay ever since. In the already narrow field of male jazz vocalists Evans stands out. His choice of material, (Tom Waits, Nick Drake, Arto Lindsay, Van Morrison, Milton Nascimento, Benjamin Britten....) and tenor range along with strikingly original arrangements create a sound that is entirely unique.
Mr. Evans records for his own label, Kahshohu Records, and can also be heard on ESC Records out of Germany where lablemates include Joe Zawinul, Steve Khan, and Les McCann among others. Additionally, his music can be found on Italian based Schema records.
Steve currently divides his time between Chicago and London where his wife Gigi Buffington works with the Royal Shakespeare Company as a voice and text coach.