Neal Evans’ Big BANG
Neal Evans is one of the wonders of the live music world. Like Charlie Hunter, Rahzel, and a few other funk virtuosos, you can spend a whole performance watching him — his two hands flying and slapping over various keyboards; each working entirely independent of the other — and yet never quite comprehend what it is you’re seeing and hearing.
The home of these skills for over a decade has been Soulive, the power trio Evans started in the late 1990s with his brother, Alan, on drums, and the guitarist, Eric Krasno. With Evans as their bassist and all-purpose keyboardist, the group has released albums on legendary labels (Stax, Blue Note); toured the U.S. and Japan; and established an annual soul/rock/jazz/funk summit called “Bowlive” at a bowling alley in Brooklyn.
The band also started a record label called Royal Family Records, for which Evans has released his debut solo album, BANG! this week. The album is relentlessly funky, yet adventurous: exactly what Evan’s fans hoped for, even if they didn’t exactly know what to expect. The noodling bass and needle-sharp harpsichord of “Shake Down” are what might have happened if Johann Sebastian Bach had sat in with the J.B.’s. Other tunes whisk listeners away to the dusty Wild West (“High Noon”), the shores of the Mediterranean (“Adventure”), and some grooved-out space station hurtling through outer space (“Afro Sheen”).
Though he invited a few friends to play on the record – Krasno, on guitar; Sam Kininger, on horns — Evans played most of the instruments on BANG! himself. That’s him on drums, bass (with the left hand, as usual), keys, and guitars. He even plays the glockenspiel on a few tracks. “I love glock!” he said, when I spoke with him recently over the phone. “Alan and I grew up playing in marching bands and stuff and I used to play vibraphone and glockenspiel and all that. I squeeze one in there where I can.”
PE: At one of the shows that I went to recently, your brother introduced you and said, “On keys, my brother, Neal. And on bass, my brother, Neal.” It’s kind of a running joke that all Soulive fans are familiar with. Can that be learned? How do you do that?
NE: I grew up playing drums first. I think the interdependence — a lot of it comes from there. I started playing piano when I was young. When I would sit at a piano, that’s how I approached it. I wasn’t soloing all over the place. I’m tapping my feet and hearing the drums in my head and then bass and then the chords. I think it’s a quirk also that I have, that my left hand it the strong hand of mine. Growing up, playing sports, playing basketball, that was my dribbling hand.