Nearly a year into his new gig with the Bad Plus, pianist Orrin Evans will face the true test: his overdue Minneapolis debut with the acclaimed Twin Cities-launched jazz trio.
“If there is a test,” Evans acknowledged, “it’s when you go home and see what everybody says about it.”
Make that newly Grammy-nominated Orrin Evans. That’s a distinction that neither of his Minnesota-reared partners in the Bad Plus can claim. Two weeks ago, the Philadelphia musician learned he was a finalist for best large ensemble jazz performance for work with his own group, Captain Black Big Band. He was caught off guard.
“The people from the record label sent me a ‘congratulations’ text,” he said of the Grammy announcement. “I was like ‘For what?’ ”
Then he received a shout-out from another person at tiny Smoke Session Records. So he clicked on Facebook and discovered his first Grammy nomination.
“I was totally surprised. I never thought that it would happen in a category I’ve never been in,” said Evans, who learned of his Grammy nod after his phone lit up one morning while on tour with the Bad Plus.
His phone might light up again on Tuesday when he opens a four-day, eight-show stand with the Bad Plus at the Dakota on Christmas night. After all, he had to retool his holiday plans.
“I’m probably not going to do my Christmas Eve party, which I normally do,” Evans, 43, said recently, pointing out that he’s flying to MSP on Christmas Day. No big deal, he insists, because his two sons are adults, one at college and the other out of town in the Navy.
Phoning from his Pennsylvania home, Evans talked about getting the Bad Plus gig, relating to his predecessor Ethan Iverson and going to the Grammys.
On how he landed in the Bad Plus:
Evans has known Bad Plus bassist Reid Anderson since before there was a Bad Plus. In fact, Evans was still in high school when he met Anderson, who was studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. “I needed a bass player for a party and his number was given to me,” Evans recalled.
Over the years, they became friends. In fact, New York-based Anderson was a groomsman at Evans’ wedding. Evans met Bad Plus drummer Dave King, who, like Anderson, grew up in the Twin Cities, around the time the Bad Plus formed in 2000.
Although Evans officially joined the Bad Plus on Jan. 1, 2018, he was invited to become a member a year earlier. He didn’t hesitate to say yes but admits that planning his new schedule was daunting at first.
On how the trio managed to issue a new album the month he joined:
The Bad Plus recorded “Never Stop II,” its second collection of all original material and 13th studio album overall, in September when the trio was still performing with original keyboardist Iverson.
“There were maybe two full days of rehearsal,” Evans recalled. “By the time we got into the studio, we had never really played a gig. We hadn’t even improvised together. We were just learning the melodies.”
On his compositions for the album:
Evans contributed two selections, “Boffadem” and “Commitment,” both of which had appeared on his 2000 album “Seed.”
On how he approached the recording:
“The record still sounds like the Bad Plus because I was conscious of some of those elements that made it the Bad Plus to me and to listeners. And I’m also staying true to my sound and respecting at the same time that it’s the Bad Plus.”
On what the group is playing in concert:
The trio is focusing on material from the new album plus some older tunes written by either King or Anderson. The group does not perform any pieces composed by Iverson, a decision made by the two original members.
Occasionally a cover of a well known pop number will sneak into the set. After all, the Bad Plus, beloved by adventurous rock fans as well as jazz aficionados, became known for its creative instrumental interpretations of hits by Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Abba and others.
On how the trio has changed:
“That’s not something I even think about,” he said. “I don’t go in trying to sound like Ethan because Ethan wasn’t the Bad Plus. The Bad Plus was Reid, Ethan and Dave. So now the Bad Plus is Orrin, Reid and Dave.”
Reviews of both the new album and recent performances suggest that while Iverson often favored an abstract, almost pointillist approach, Evans is less classically influenced and a bit funkier.
On his relationship with Iverson:
“I know Ethan real well. We’ve played a few duo piano concerts. We did one duo concert right before I joined the Bad Plus, and there was congratulatory remarks but we never talked about it. I didn’t ask any musical questions. I basically thought ‘let me figure this out by myself when we get there.’ ”
On his other gigs:
Captain Black is a big band — nine instrumentalists and two singers — that Evans has led for about 10 years. He also runs a label, Imani Records, with his wife, Dawn. He figures he devotes about 60 percent of his time to the Bad Plus, with gigs at least one or two weeks each month.
On previous appearances at the Dakota Jazz Club:
He’s been there twice — with the Mingus Big Band and as a sideman to jazz trumpeter Sean Jones. But not since 2006.
On his plans for the Grammy Awards on Feb. 10:
He’s going to the ceremonies in Los Angeles with his wife. Evans was at the Grammys once before — in 1993 as a member of the Grammy all-star high school jazz band.
“I don’t always watch the Grammys, I don’t always watch the Oscars and I don’t always watch the Emmys,” Evans confessed. “But when your peers show you some recognition for your work, it feels good.”