It’s just the thing to do these days–taking advantage of improved technology to dig out and dust up old work to make it suitable for a digital age. Joe Evans, aka Runningonair, takes this route with two discs’ worth of stuff going back almost to pre-Internet times. Divided into “Selected” and “unSelected” pieces, the sixteen tracks showcase Evans’ frenetic Philip-Glass-on-speed constructs, crafty sound manipulations/distortions and downright cool jazz meanderings. Like many of these back-of-the-closet retrospectives, not every track succeeds 100%, but Evans is spot-on more often than not. His quirky energy infuses the music to keep it lively and moving–even in moments where it gets a little odd. Take, for example, “Seven (Civil War on Drugs),” where you may find yourself dropping into a smooth piano-and-bass riff while Evans folds in soundbites taken from some report on the effects of the war on drugs. Things like, “Toward the end of the month we’ll have what I guess you can call retaliatory shootings…payback.” Or perhaps you’re in the middle of “Is This Me?,” with the piano line that calls a bit of Donald Fagen/Steely Dan to mind, when you’re caught off-guard by Evans briefly adding a little Paris-sidewalk-cafe-flavored ocarina tune–which fades back to let the piano pick up the idea before the electronics take over. I quite like this sort of identity-switching stunt Evans pulls on a regular basis. Never forced, just always there to make you rethink what you’re hearing. He hits it again on “In Search of W,” shifting gears up, down and up as sequencer runs pop against plush chords and high-range melodies.
The UnSelected disc offers a somewhat less segmented and chopped Runningonair, an approach that comes from somewhere along the jazz/New Age border. It’s an interesting look at the stepping-off point for Evans’ experimental work. You can hear his signature structure peeking out from behind calm Sunday-morning stride of “Resolution 2,” the burst of toccatta-esque flair, pipe-organ sound and all, in the middle of “Zen Lunch” and the changing face of “West to East,” which would slide neatly into a fusion-jazz jacket if you had to categorize it.
While I find myself gravitating more toward the edgier sensibilities of the Selected disc, this double helping of Runningonair highlights Evans’ superb musicianship overall. A great way to introduce yourself to a truly intriguing artist.
Available from the Runningonair web site.