The Cultures of Soul label digs up some old funk and disco from Andre Evans.
Evans Pyramid is the project of Andre Evans, one of those musicians who few people have heard of, despite him having played with a number of important figures in jazz, soul and funk. He came up as a drummer and worked with Grant Green, the famous jazz guitarist, and “Brother” Jack McDuff, a talented Hammond B-3 organ player. Soon he moved on to soul groups, playing with Dyke and the Blazers (of “Funky Broadway” fame), the Delfonics (who played a role in developing the lush Philadelphia soul sound), Isaac Hayes (who wrote huge hits for Stax and wildly ambitious solo albums) and Little Anthony (a master of doo-wop-esque ballads).
Eventually, Evans began to play and record his own music, using what he’d learned from all the talent he had worked with previously. Claiming Kool & the Gang and Chicago as influences, Evans played many of the instruments himself, occasionally bringing in female vocalists, students from Berklee College of Music in Boston (much of his recording took place in Massachusetts) or his collaborator Phil Jelatis to play keyboard. However, Evans only put out a few records, mainly singles and five copies of a six-track LP. Most of his work went largely undiscovered until fairly recently. Having dug up an old Evans Pyramid 12”, the head of the Cultures of Soul label put out a call over the internet to find the man behind the music. After locating him, they put together a collection of a number of songs and released it as Evans Pyramid.
Evans Pyramid contains funk and disco numbers recorded over a number of years, the latest in 1994. The album lacks a unified feel, since it’s cobbled together from several recording sessions and several different lineups. But disco is about extended grooves and a steady, relentless, clumping beat that sweeps up anything in its path. Guitars flicker in and out, singers come and go, but the rhythm section never stops, and you don’t want it to. The form provides a sense of cohesion.
Particular moments shine through on the record. During opener “Never Gonna Leave You”, there are soft harmonies, sweet and wonderfully melancholy. The way the melody turns a corner about two minutes in, very slowly and steadily, seems like a perfect expression of the song’s sentiment, faithful and inevitable. There is a gloriously fat, snapping rubber-band bass line ascending beneath “I Want Your Body”. A horn section, punchy and compact, drives “Rubber Band” and its close cousin, the quick burst of energy that is “Dance a Thon”, helping to round out these songs’ edges.
The later part of the album moves away from the explicitly disco styling of the first part, sounding at times like work of the Time or Vanity 6, Minneapolis funk projects affiliated with Prince (and the song “Party Like It’s 2001” pays homage to Prince with its title). The highlight here is “Where Love Lives”. This is one of the tracks written in the late '80s, but apparently not recorded until 1994. The lead vocal is sung by Deleasha O’Neal, an unknown singer, but she delivers one of the best vocal performances on the album -- confident, seductive, and powerful, but never overly imperious. The song slams forward buoyed by a flat, quintessentially '80s-sounding drum beat; the hook is devastatingly simple, basically just a few synth notes. If things had worked out a little better for Evans, it’s not hard to imagine this track pouring out of pop radios in the '80s.
Often you hear about the ways in which modern technology is ruining music. People will tell you that MP3s have terrible fidelity relative to vinyl, and that it’s impossible for all but the biggest bands to make a living creating music because everyone can download their songs illegally. But technology has wonderful upsides. Without it, the music of Andre Evans would be stuck in the hands of just a few record collectors.