Orrin Evans Holiday Extravaganza at Birdland

Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band Holiday Extravaganza at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus
Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band Holiday Extravaganza at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

It was the Captain Black Big Band for the Orrin Evans Holiday Extravaganza at Birdland. The show opened with drummer Anwar Marshall setting the mood with improvised motifs. Special guest artists included Michelle Lordi, Alexia Bontempo, JD Walter, and Milton Suggs.

Moments later, jazz singer JD Walter came to the stage and joined Marshall to sing his cool, contemporary, improvised version of The Little Drummer Boy. Walter’s singing with synthesizer doubling and delay effects conveyed well-crafted sonic images of a drummer boy under a starry winter sky beset with awe and gratitude for the season. His use of vocal tone colors was vibrant and dynamic.


JD Walter with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

JD Walter with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Outside was a chilly December evening, while inside, it was electric with a festive spirit as the big band took to the stage, adorned with shimmering decorations and glittering lights. The audience’s excitement was palpable as they waited for the coterie of talented guest artists and singers to join the holiday celebration.

Pianist and bandleader Orrin Evans came to the stage with the rest of the band.

Pianist Orrin Evans leads the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Pianist Orrin Evans leads the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

With instruments ready, the band began the show with a spiffing version of What Child is This. Next, dapper jazz vocalist Milton Suggs came out swinging and led with his smooth sounds in the classic tune of O Christmas Tree, leaving the audience breathless with every scorching hot jazz lick, cool piano, tenor saxophone, and trombone solo. Caleb Wheeler Curtis’s alto saxophone solo work was sophisticated and worked well with the free inventiveness occurring on stage.

Milton Suggs with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Milton Suggs with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Singer Michelle Lordi sped it up with a bluesy Blue Christmas in a style that Elvis and Vince Guaraldi would have been proud of. Bassist Matthew Parrish helped out and, along with synthesizer work by Peter Rushing and the bold voice of Orrin Evans on piano, added to the fun, richness, and variety of sounds.

Michelle Lordi with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Michelle Lordi with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Guest artist and singer Alexia Bontempo sang a dreamy, romantic holiday ballad in Portuguese before JD Walter returned for a contemporary, free-form rendition of We Three Kings.

Alexia Bontempo with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Alexia Bontempo with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

After a swingin’ hot jazz number from a recent album, the ensemble delivered a poetic, atmospheric version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. This contemporary, evocative, and pensive arrangement elicited memories of self-reflection as crafted in Bill Evan’s famous recording of Peace Piece. Everyone was invited to sing along as the sentimental strains of this tune heralded love and good cheer as the session ended.

L-R Luques Curtis, Caleb Wheeler Curtis and Anwar Marshall with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus

L-R Luques Curtis, Caleb Wheeler Curtis, and Anwar Marshall with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at Birdland. Photo by Edward Kliszus




Host and pianist Orrin Evans, guest artists, and the Captain Black Big Band provided an effervescent and energetic performance, with the audience tapping their feet and smiling all night. The concert was a magical and unforgettable holiday celebration of music by some of today’s most significant musical artists.

Orrin Evans Holiday Extravaganza at Birdland with the Captain Black Big Band and guest artists Michelle Lordi, Alexia Bontempo, JD Walter, and Milton Suggs

The Captain Black Big Band features a rotating cast of brilliantly skilled talent, including saxophonists Todd Bashore, Victor North, Chelsea Baratz, Mark Allen; trumpeters Tatum Greenblatt, Josh Lawrence, Tanya Darby, Brian Kilpatrick; trombonists David Gibson, Stafford Hunter, Brent White; and drummer Anwar Marshall.

Tonight’s concert included host and pianist Orrin Evans, Peter Rushing on synth keyboard and piano, Caleb Wheeler Curtis on alto saxophone, and bass Luques Curtis and Matthew Parish.

Birdland Jazz Club

315 West 44th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues)
New York, NY 10036
For reservations, call (212) 581-3080
For information or tickets, go to www.BirdlandJazz.com.

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of the Tony Kadleck Big Band at BirdlandBen Wendel Quartet at the Village Vanguard, Seth Sikes Come a Little CloserDavid Jackson at 54Below, Trombonist Marshall Gilkes, and Insomnia.


Orrin Evans Holiday Extravaganza at Birdland

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