Evolutionary Jass Band “Change of Scene”

The Evolutionary Jass Band may have been a little too adventurous with their latest album, “Change of Scene.” Performing as The Steele Street Revolutionary Jass Band prior to 2001, the Portland-based sextet is dominated by Jefrey Brown (saxophone) and Michael Henrickson (drums). As billed by their record label, the ambitious duo combines Ethiopian beats with early New Orleans jazz, improvisational bebop, and a slew of other more obscure genres.

With Marisa Anderson on sitar and pulsating rhythms coming from Henrickson’s percussions, the band could easily take the idea of Afrocentric jazz to a new level. Instead, they stifle the concept with a robust alto sax, a fluttering soprano sax, and an out-of-phase violin.

In the tribal-ritual introduction of the title song, forceful drumbeats and jangling bells punctuate the silence, giving way to a sultry saxophone at the fifth minute. At first, the saxophone moans along with the steady beat of the drum. As the song progresses, the sound evolves into a more heady intonation that nearly overpowers the gripping percussive foundation. The ruckus is overbearing at times and the palette of moods is often blended in uncomplementary tones.

Throughout the record, this tug of war between the percussion and the brass is a divisive force. Both start supporting each other, but by the middle of each tune, they are telling different stories that would be better off separate.

The most successful experimentation of this sound permutation is in “Mercury,” when a lone soprano sax with impeccable clarity and lilting progression is well supported by the drums and the bass. The light touch of the guitar in the background brings the marginally unruly sax back to earth, and the violin and bass drag the tune into more serious territory, changing the tone from upbeat to ominous.

In short, “Change of Scene” is not evolutionary, it is merely left of center. Trying to accomplish too much, the Evolutionary Jass Band attempts to fuse intense Ethiopian beats with hardy brass and modern jazz. The outcome is an anarchic cacophony of songs that sound all too similar and brash.

The group has potential, however, and with focus and organization, it could live up to its name. Henrickson often stumbles onto some stellar drum rhythms, and Brown’s distinctive timbre can be welded into more pleasant yet daring tones.

In the future, the ensemble should consider sticking to just one story, or, rather, section – namely, percussion. For now, we can appreciate this album for Henrickson’s rhythmic skill and Brown’s personality.

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