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Jazz and Americana blend at the Blue Note in West Village

Saxophonist Bill Evans jams with members of Railroad Earth and Soulive at Blue Note
Saxophonist Bill Evans jams with members of Railroad Earth and Soulive at Blue Note
Linda Covello

Page Six thought it was a big deal that John Mayer was spotted in the audience at Chick Corea’s show at the Blue Note last Wednesday night, all smiles and wearing a big wooly sweater post-Katy Perry breakup. According to the gossip page, Mayer stayed into the wee hours at the club and later posted a video of Corea’s performance with the quote “helluva night”. If he had ventured back over to the famed West Third Street venue a few hours later for Thursday night’s first set, he would have been in for a double dose. Grammy winning saxophonist Bill Evans performed two sets that night, and he was accompanied onstage by some world class talent from Railroad Earth and Soulive, as well as his own band, Soulgrass.

Bill Evans onstage at the Blue Note
Linda Covello Photography

Evans is, according to Tim Carbone, the violinist for the roots/jamband Railroad Earth, “The greatest post bop sax player on the planet.” Evans was 21 years old when he joined Miles Davis’ band as sax player. The mythic trumpeter had come out of a self-imposed exile of six years in 1979, overcoming his cocaine addiction and regaining his enthusiasm for music. The combo he formed with Evans also included bass player Marcus Miller, and the two would remain Davis’ most regular collaborators throughout the decade. A few of the notable albums Evans recorded with Davis include “The Man With The Horn”, “We Want Miles”, “Star People” and “Decoy”. He has also played, toured and recorded with artists such as Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Willy Nelson, Mick Jagger, Ian Anderson and The Allman Brothers Band, among others.

Beginning in 1990, Evans, who plays primarily tenor and soprano saxophones, began touring with his own band and now spends about six months of every year on the road. His band, Soulgrass, which includes banjo player Ryan Cavanaugh and drummer Josh Dion, will tour Europe in May, with stops in Japan. Before that, Evans will play this month at B.B. King’s on West 42nd Street with Butch Trucks, the drummer who is one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band. For Thursday night’s performance he was joined onstage, in addition to Railroad Earth’s Carbone, by bass guitarist Dave Anderson, guitar player Eric Krasno of Soulive and pianist Neil Evans, also of Soulive.

Watching Evans and his band perform on Thursday night, the movie “Robocop” came to mind. In that film, man is fused with machine to create a perfect crime fighting cyborg. To see and hear a group of musicians with the level of experience that all seven of those onstage that night possess, one can’t help thinking that each one is organically fused with their instrument. Evans’ command of the saxophone is faultless. When he and Carbone came together to riff off each other, the effect was nothing short of awe inspiring. A still photo (see slideshow) does not do justice to the sensation of feeling that is created by experiencing such a moment between musicians of that caliber. The same can be said for all of the musicians onstage that night, as each member cycled through a solo, blowing the audience away with their elemental skills and passion for the music.

Carbone is one of the original members of Railroad Earth, a band that has amassed a fiercely devoted network of fans almost on the scale of that other famous jamband, The Grateful Dead. Formed in 2001, the band has recorded seven critically acclaimed albums, including 2006’s live album, “Elko”. Carbone keeps his vision fresh by working with musicians of Evans’ stature whenever he can squeeze out a free moment from RRE’s tight touring schedule. He has performed with The Dead’s Bob Weir, The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson and worked as a session musician on the records of Bruce Springsteen, Nellie McKay, Pete Seeger and Janis Ian, to name just a few. He has produced/mixed and/or engineered many records that have landed in the top ten Americana and Jamband charts and been played in heavy rotation on traditional and satellite radio. This includes a number one single in the Japanese charts for the Ragbirds.

The project that is closest to Carbone’s heart is his side band, The Contribution. The story about the band’s formation is pure rock and roll ephemera. A few years back, Railroad Earth was on the bill for the Northwest String Summit held at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon each summer. Carbone had arrived at the venue a few days before the rest of the band so he could camp out and experience the setting on his own before getting caught up in the demands of performance. He told a friend who was with him, “if I was ever going to do LSD again, this is the place where I would want to do it.” As luck would have it, that friend knew of a guy who was at the festival who had supplied the LSD for The Grateful Dead’s Acid Test and the Kesey Family. Carbone ate a couple of wheat thins with a few drops of the liquid acid and experienced a trip that was “beautiful, all good reactions, great colors, awesome body sensations, no cramps.” In the middle of his epic high, he came across a giant psychedelic caterpillar with mechanical eyes that was blowing smoke rings. As one huge ring wafted out from the caterpillar, Carbone ran up to it and jumped into the ring and cut it in half. Unsure whether he had actually accomplished this, or if it was a hallucination, he turned to his companions, Jeff Miller and Phil Ferlino of the band New Monsoon and asked “did anybody else see that?” When they both replied they had, Carbone, caught up in the feeling of the moment, declared “we should make a record!”

The record that came out of that pact, “Which Way World”, released in 2010, is the kind of album that only seasoned musicians can produce. As the band’s website states, “we were many days lost in creativity beneath the mighty redwoods and emerged into the California sunshine with the songs sewn together with the threads spun from our common love of music and spirit of our friendship. In a twist of poetic irony we were able to secure the incredible talents of our good friends Keith Mosely and Jason Hann to be our rhythm section, The String Cheese Incident being the reason we were all at Hornings in the first place!” In addition to being comprised of Carbone, members of The String Cheese Incident and New Monsoon, the band includes Matt Butler, drummer, founder and conductor of The Everyone Orchestra and vocalist Sheryl Renee of The Black Swan Singers. Keeping to the spirit of the band’s name, Carbone says 100% of all proceeds from sales of the band’s singles will go to different charities of the member’s choice. Organizations like The Rex Foundation, Conscious Alliance, and Rock The Earth are already slated as beneficiaries.

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