When the sky cries rainbows | Sandy Evans Septet

Sandy Evans Septet

"These outstanding works embody sadness and hope in a landmark album, adding to Evans’s remarkable repertoire."


Sandy Evans leader, tenor and soprano saxophone
James Greening trombone
Phil Slater trumpet
Alister Spence piano
Brett Hirst bass
Toby Hall drums
Hamish Stuart drums (tracks 4 and 6)

In 1997, Sandy Evans’ husband and close musical colleague Tony Gorman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This recording traces Evans’ own journey responding to the impact MS has had on her life with Tony as they seek hope and healing.

Drawing inspiration from the rainbow’s symbolism of finding hope amidst adversity, Evans intricately weaves a tapestry of emotions, reflecting life’s diverse shades and states of mind.

From the introspective yet buoyant title track to the unyielding lament of Heedrum-hodrum Headbanging and the dark humor of Alexander’s Dark Band, each composition reveals a facet of the human experience. With the trumpet’s mournful cry in Broken and the tranquil solace of Indigo Hues, Evans and her exceptional ensemble convey a narrative best appreciated in its entirety, undisturbed.

This album emanates profound love and resonates deeply with listeners.

Reviews and interviews

The Australian
Date: 27 August 2011 11:15:16 AM AEST

4-1/2 stars
SYDNEY saxophonist-composer and multi-award winner Sandy Evans says the rainbow is a symbol of finding hope through suffering. Sadly, she has had her share of suffering since her husband, clarinettist Tony Gorman, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996. She recalls: “Tony’s diagnosis was devastating . . . years went by in a haze of fear and depression.” Now Evans has composed a suite of works dedicated to Gorman and expanded her long-term trio with bassist Brett Hirst and drummer Toby Hall to sextet size, recording this 13-part suite. The title track opens with a sunburst of soprano sax, James Greening’s trombone and Phil Slater’s trumpet giving way to an introspective passage from solo soprano ornamented by Alister Spence’s glistening piano, before contrapuntal sequences from the three horns are enlivened by subtle grooves from bass and drums. Expressively swinging solos from soprano, piano and trumpet bring Rainbows back to its descriptive, floating theme. Evans’s rich, warm-toned tenor sax begins an out-of-tempo Indigo Hues with just the piano’s soft chords and flowing accompaniment, while Spectre is a two-minute trumpet solo of aching beauty. These outstanding works embody sadness and hope in a landmark album, adding to Evans’s remarkable repertoire.

John McBeath

The Herald Sun, September 18, 2011

4.5 stars
IF you buy one jazz album this year, it should be this. Inspirational Sydney saxophonist Sandy Evans has had since 1996 to compose her response to her musician husband Tony Gorman’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
Taking the rainbow as a symbol of finding hope in suffering, Evans has created a musical journey that evokes life’s myriad hues and states of mind.
From the wistful, yet sprightly title track, through Heedrum-hodrum headbanging’s irrepressible complaint and the grim humour of Alexander’s Dark Band to the trumpet lament of Broken and blessed relief of Indigo Hues, Evans and her brilliant ensemble tell a story that is surely best experienced as a whole, with no distractions.
It exudes love.

Roger Mitchell

Orange Press
on September 30th, 2011

There are very few complete musicians in the world of contemporary music. Most players remain in their genre throughout their creative lives, often perfecting their little corner of the musical garden, quite content there. Jazz is a music that has birthed many voraciously questing musicians – Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter – true artists who are always moving outward in search of the ungraspable thing. We listeners are fortunate to be pulled along in the slipstream of these intrepids.

Sydney’s Sandy Evans is such a musician. An award-winning – I for one have lost count – saxophonist, composer and band leader, she has studied Carnatic music in India and co-leads a trio with Japanese koto player, Satsuki Odamura. This is as well as being a mainstay of Australian jazz, leading and co-leading various innovative ensembles over the years such as Clarion Fracture Zone. She is also one of very few women at the top of the Australian jazz tree – make of that what you will – an achievement in itself (Evans inaugurated the annual SIMA Jazz Improvisation Course for Young Women).

Sandy Evans has recently released ‘When the Sky Cries Rainbows’, a 60 minute 13-part jazz suite, written for her trio – with Brett Hirst, bass and Toby Hall, drums – which may be the most personal work of her wide-ranging and adventurous musical life. It is dedicated to – and drawn emotionally from – her husband Tony Gorman’s battle with the disease MS. Evans says “The starting point for my creative expression in this work is the breathtaking spectrum of colour that often fills the sky after a storm… a symbol of the profound sense of hope that can occur after a time of intense grief.”

There is nothing new about seeing the bright colours of the rainbow as a symbol of hope. But Evans has been through intense grief of watching a lover suffer and this music rings true and deep. To add to the sophisticated emotional colours of her arrangements, Evans has brought in Phil Slater on trumpet, James Greening on trombone and Alistair Spence on piano. Although the theme here is hope, there are many moments of desolate despair and introspection. The title track and opener contrasts fiesta flurries of notes with meditative passages, as if to acknowledge the creep of despair behind the smile. The Phil Slater solo trumpet piece, ‘Spectre’ is a blues moan into the void. ‘Spectre of the Broken’ has a ghostly unison line over piano chords that sound like black pools under a grey moon. Slater’s trumpet solo on a later track, ‘Broken’ scratches and frets with grief.

Tone poetry – expressing emotions, impressions through music – can be a difficult thing, especially in a music as highly personalised and cliché-allergic as contemporary jazz. But Sandy Evans’ writing throughout ‘When the Sky Cries Rainbows’ is dazzling, not only technically but more importantly, emotionally – however dense and dissonant, the music takes you where she wants it to. The tone clusters in ‘Chromatic Dispersion’ and horn spatters in ‘Heedrum-Hodrum Headbanging’ are new as dew, but the feelings reach back deep into your psyche.

Although the dark, desolate and blue passages are beautifully conceived – Evans drawing out colours of blue-chocolate and ghosted lunar hues – it is the up, the hopeful, the yes! pieces that shine here (pun intended). ‘Alexander’s Dark Band’ rollicks down the road like a New Orleans march, kicking all demons out of its way (check James Greening’s hilarious almost vocal trombone chuckles at the beginning). ’40 Degrees’ swings powerfully with lop-sided Thelonious Monk-style rhythmic displacements. By the time we get to the final two pieces, ‘Hand in Hand’ – a sweet calypso – and the closer, ‘With The Sun Behind Me’ we are tapping our feet and feeling the life tingle through our fingers and toes.

The work finishes on such a high note, with such an affirmation of energy, that you know the sad, bad, life-suckers have been pushed back – and with music of this energy and depth they can be kept – we hope – just a little longer at bay.

John Hardaker

…this sixty-minute, suite-like work conveys a remarkable range of colors and textures, and a breadth of musical ideas that evokes composers Duke Ellington and Gil Evans in the more impressionistic segments, and modernists like bassist Dave Holland and alto saxophonist Steve Coleman in the swinging, tightly knit post-bop and knottier episodes.

The Australian
Saxophonist puts tragedy on record
by John McBeath
6 October 2011

ALTHOUGH she has appeared on more than 30 albums, any new CD from Sydney composer and saxophonist Sandy Evans is enthusiastically anticipated.

When the Sky Cries Rainbows, her latest, is especially noteworthy, not only because of its musicianship and compositions but for being the first time she has spoken publicly about the tragedy that struck her husband, saxophonist Tony Gorman. In the cover notes she describes Gorman waking up one morning in 1996 numb from the waist down, and after agonising delays being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“Years went by in a haze of fear and depression,” she writes.

It was more than a personal disaster. The pair had formed a close musical bond, playing together in various groups, notably in their quintet Clarion Fracture Zone. Gorman had to relinquish his career. Evans says: “Clarion Fracture Zone is presently latent.”

The rainbow of the album’s title is her symbol for finding hope through suffering. Rainbows, a 13-part suite, featuring Evans’s long-term trio expanded to a sextet, is dedicated to Gorman, and will be performed at the Wangaratta Jazz festival this month. Evans will also perform there in a duo with pianist Paul Grabowsky.

There is an unpredictability about MS, and on good days Gorman enjoys playing an alto clarinet at home, sometimes with an improvising quartet. Although doctors are unable to supply a prognosis, he is relatively stable.

Evans’s musicality began early. As a preschooler she could read music before she could read words, thanks to her mother, a piano teacher. “Mind you,” she says, “my piano playing hasn’t improved at all since then.”

Now 51, she is an outgoing woman of diminutive build; someone once commented that she wasn’t much taller than a baritone sax. She played recorder and flute at 11, and during her high school years was introduced to jazz by John Speight, artistic director of the Manly Jazz Festival. After joining Speight’s big band she decided: “The flute wasn’t going to cut it so well.” She took up alto sax, moved to soprano, then ultimately to tenor because, she says: “I’ve got a high-pitched voice so I think I have an urge to play lower things. The tenor has such a warmth in that lower register.”

Moving to Singapore for her final secondary years at an international boarding school provided an opportunity for Evans’s first professional gigs. She began sneaking out at night, climbing a barbed-wire fence and avoiding dog patrols, to join a guitarist for hotel gigs.

“I was lucky I didn’t break my leg,” she says.

Returning to Australia in 1979 she thought of becoming a filmmaker, and with teenage impetuosity driving a social conscience went to India to join its enormous film industry.

“It turned out to be a bit of a disaster,” she says.

Back in Australia she took saxophone lessons with Tony Buchanan, as well as studying composition and improvisation with composer Bruce Cale. These studies led to Evans taking a jazz course at the Sydney Conservatorium where she learned from legendary pianists, Paul McNamara and Roger Frampton, plus sax teachers Bob Birtles and Col Loughnan.

Her first band was called Women and Children First. Buying a minibus in 1985, the five band members and a manager set out on a seven-month journey across Australia, playing as they went and camping out. They often performed outdoors, featuring the musicians emerging from the bushes as they played their opening piece.

“We were a bunch of hippies,” Evans says.

After meeting Gorman, a Scot, at a jazz festival in Germany in 1986, the couple married in Glasgow and came to Australia in 1988 to form Clarion Fracture Zone. Their debut album, Blue Shift, won an ARIA award in 1990 and their second CD, Zones on Parade, brought a coveted five-star review in Downbeat magazine plus invitations to perform at festivals worldwide. Evans was also a founding member of the Catholics, an original member of the Australian Art Orchestra and Ten Part Invention, plus leading or playing in several other groups, including her own renowned trio, the exploratory GEST8 featuring the Japanese koto, world music exponents Waratah and modern jazz-world folk music combo Mara!

She plays with a rich, warm tone and great skill. She’s capable of strong grooves and equally adept at deeply expressive interpretations of slower pieces, delivered faultlessly.Evans has won numerous awards most notably in June last year when she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to Australian contemporary jazz as a composer and a musician: a rare honour for a jazz musician.

To cope with the stress of living with MS, Evans has found ways that assist. She relaxes with “hot yoga,” in which she spends 90 minutes in various yoga positions in a 37C heated room in high humidity. She and Gorman also regularly go bike riding, raising funds from rides for the MS Society. Six years ago she took up Buddhism and says that too has helped.Throughout this difficult time, Evans kept playing, teaching and composing, completing an ABC-commissioned work called Testimony, a tribute to saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker. A recording of the complete work is to be issued in the US next year.

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