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“Live at St. Stephens” with Pianist Neil Shah

“5-stars. My highest marks are for originality and audacity, but there is a more profound inner communion here.”—Michael Jackson, DownBeat Magazine (reviewing Evans’ previous CD)

“It must be stated that Neil Shah has assimilated both Keith Jarrett and the great Bill Evans into his own creative muse to produce a startlingly impressive touch.”—Larry Hollis, Cadence Magazine

The Charles Evans/Neil Shah duo represents a culmination of a longstanding musical partnership that dates back to a teenage friendship growing up in the Pennsylvania countryside. After meeting ironically at a basketball camp in the 8th grade, both eventually attended The Philadelphia College of Performing Arts. Ten years later, they find themselves reunited in NYC with a fresh approach; ballad and introspective improvisation based on complex 20th century classical structures, jazz and free-jazz influences.

The duo’s new CD, “Live at St. Stephens,” a baritone saxophone/piano recording of chromatic and introspective music, will be released December 1, 2009 on Hot Cup Records (Mostly Other People Do the Killing).

One technique implemented by the Charles Evans/Neil Shah duo is economy of improvisation over dense harmonies. Despite stated jazz influences and predecessors, this music is genre-nonspecific and organically evolves in equal parts from various musical traditions. The combination of modern poly-chordal jazz harmonies, 20th century classical techniques and free improvisation demonstrate the duo’s ability to transcend traditional art music genres, as well as the versatility of Evans’ com-
positions. Shah presents poly-chords, traditionally non-programmatic, with the subtlest dynamic, creating a sonic landscape that drips with genuine introspective love. Evans’ role in the dialog is a mastery of the difficult altissimo register of the baritone, utilizing a large tone and wide vibrato. This is countered with the use of freely associated triads and chromatic lines in polyphonic im-
provisation. Quartertones, notes existing between the traditional 12-note temperament, can be heard via Evans’ baritone quite often, in both improvisation and composition. The listener may even catch strict 12-tone writing supplied by Evans, countered by masterful tonal and atonal piano cadenzas improvised by Shah.

Charles Evans (b. Sept. 6, 1978) was raised in a small town named Factoryville, PA. Evans began intensive baritone saxophone study with the late Bill Zaccagni at the Philadelphia College of Arts. During this time he also studied with David Liebman, who instilled an artistic mindset in the young baritonist and inspired him to pursue music to his fullest potential. Following Liebman’s cue, Evans moved to New York, where he received a Master’s degree in jazz performance while studying with Antonio Hart. He completed the Music Education program at Queens College for state certification.

Evans began his recording career with a widely sought after reading of classic Ballads on the Greatbend label, featuring Neil Shah. Evans subsequently formed a critically acclaimed microtonal bebop band called The Language Of, with the world-reknowned trumpet virtuoso Peter Evans and Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s bandleader Moppa Elliott on bass. The group has released two recordings, “It Needs It” on Hot Cup Records, and “No Relation”on Greatbend. Evans (Charles) describes the style of improvisation employed in this group, rapidly oscillating between bebop vernacular and extended technique, as “light-switch be-bop.”

His March 2009 multi-layered solo bari sax release “The King of All Instruments” earned wide praise including 5-stars in DownBeat and a place on the 57th Annual Critics Poll designation as a “Rising Star” of the baritone saxophone. As Hank Shteamer said in his Time Out New York review:  “Evans is dead serious about getting the most out of his regal horn. Hypnotic and, in spots, powerfully creepy, it’s a singular statement from a composer who conceals profound art beneath gimmicky trappings.” And in Susan Frances noted:  “In Charles Evans’ hands, the baritone saxophone is truly capable of creating works of art that mesmerize audiences.

Raised in a musical family, Neil Shah (b. May 23, 1979) had an early start, and began formal piano lessons at age 4. By 12, he was performing the original version of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag blind-folded as entertainment at local events. Shah went on to earn a Bachelor of Music in piano performance from the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, studying with Don Glanden, John Hicks, and Trudy Pitts. Awarded a full merit scholarship from the University of North Texas, Shah received a Master of Music in jazz studies after serving as the pianist with the renowned One O’Clock Lab Band for two years. He has performed in concert with internationally renowned legends and jazz artists including Grover Washington Jr., Eddie Gomez, Bob Brookmeyer, Mingus Band, and Chris Potter.

In addition to Shah’s work as a pianist, he balances an active career as a composer and song-
writer. His work can be heard on feature-films, national television shows and commercials. As a songwriter and solo artist, Neil has released several singles from a vast collection of songs. These recordings combine his artistry as a singer, pianist and songwriter, while highlighting his arranging and production skills working with New York City’s music talent.

In live performance, the duo provides an intense and impassioned experience. Often, the listener is haunted by a delicate chromatic piece, bringing to mind the expressionists of the 20th century. Both have a soft spot for lyrical romanticism and introspection, and these attributes are clearly expressed in their delivery on their chosen instruments. Having said this, the variety of the Charles Evans/Neil Shah duo could just as easily remind the listener of the innovations of the David Liebman/Richard Beirach duo, and/or the free improvisations of Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton, Keith Jarrett, and the late period of John Coltrane.

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