By Brian Zimmerman | Published October 2016
Pianist Richard Sussman is among the most ambitious composers on the jazz scene today, a veteran of the large-ensemble circuit whose work has been promulgated by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Metropole Orchestra, the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra and the American Composers Orchestra, among many others. A dedicated jazz educator, Sussman is also the recipient of numerous accolades, including two NEA grants in Jazz Composition, an ASCAP Jazz Composition Award and a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant. Much of his wide acclaim—both artistically and professionally—owes to his creative process, which is rooted in tradition yet amenable to new trends and sounds. His latest project, the epic Evolution Suite, exemplifies this creative outlook with dignity and self-assurance. Ten years in the making, the album is a delicate blend of gentle chamber music, buzzy electronics and warm, radiant jazz that creates a new niche for itself even as it pays respectful homage to the traditions on which it’s built. The bulk of the program is a five-part suite over which strings (courtesy of the Sirius Quartet and guest violinist Zach Brock) engage in sharp dialogue with an agile combo that includes Sussman (piano and electronics), Scott Wendholt (trumpet), Rich Perry (tenor saxophone), Mike Richmond (bass) and Anthony Pinciotti (drums). The musical exchanges here are often free-flowing and stimulating, as on the meditative “Movement II: Relaxin’ At Olympus” or the opening “Movement I: Into The Cosmic Kitchen.” But at other times, they can be spiky and challenging, as on “Movement III: Nexus,” with its sawing electrified strings and feisty electronics, and “Prevolution,” with its percolating drum track. The strength of this unit is its ability to draw lyricism from a variety of stylistic sources, be they straightahead jazz, classical, pop or free-jazz. And though on occasion those strands can be examined in isolation—there’s an unabashed sense of swing to “Movement V: Perpetual Motionâ€ and a gauzy, avant-garde ominousness to “Movement IV: The Music Of The Cubes”—the album reaches its highest points when all merge together, which happens with mesmerizing frequency on this engaging album.