Over the years and through several fine recordings, alto and soprano saxophonist Jon Gordon has proven a worthy post-bop/post-Phil Woods figure, though in fairly obscure circles. Using primarily small ensembles that feature his voicings, the former Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition prize winner has stayed true to mainstream jazz with a shade of progressive ideas, so Evolution suggests a new era for his ideas. Using a large ensemble, a string complement, and the arrangements of Alan Ferber, Gordon explores the angular territory that a modern Monk big band might imply, with parallels to the orchestras of contemporaries Maria Schneider, Jason Lindner, or Joris Teepe. Bass clarinetist Doug Yates holds down the foundation of this group quite noticeably, along with tenor saxophonist John Ellis and trombonist Ferber, while drummer Mark Ferber, bassist Matt Clohesy, and the witty inventions of pianist Sean Wayland suggest they take their rhythmic duties seriously. Where Gordon's music itself is not all that bold, inventive, or distinctive, it very much sounds much like a democratic collaboration on three showcase tracks. The title selection has a stair-step quality of ascendance between Wayland and Clohesy, while the woodwinds and brass sneak around underneath the surface, a perfect confluence of light versus heavy. Via the full 13-piece ensemble with vocalist Kristin Berardi, they collectively express the idea of "Bloom" in dark, mysterious tones with an emphasis on the strings and a ticking clock running down on time. Wordless scat from Berardi with the trimmed 11-piece unit presents the most orchestrated track on the date, as the appropriately titled "Currents" gives us a completely modern chart, and solos, especially from Alan Ferber's trombone. Wayland's piano comes to the forefront on "Veil" with the entire little big band, as Yates again poses more questions than answers with his pithy, vocal bass clarinet as opposed to the violins. "Prelude" and "Contemplation" are brief chamber-like string things sans the horns and rhythm section, featuring premier violinist Sara Caswell, lesser-known Andie Springer, cellist Jody Redhage, (Alan Ferber's wife/arranger helpmate,) and Gordon at the piano for the introductory snippet. Gordon revisits a previous duet collaboration on soprano or alto sax, respectively, with pianist Bill Charlap (see the CD Contrasts) in tribute to his sons, with "Shane" in a solemn, somewhat distant sound facade, while "One for Liam" is more active and dance oriented. While the cunning external energy of this collective is palpable, the internal ruminative spirit of this ensemble takes the art of subtlety to a heightened level, which will require your rapt attention and more than one listening. Evolution comes recommended, with the caveat that this is only the prelude toward a full-blown epic project for Gordon in the future.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos