With a quartet of area players steeped in jazz and other genres, the band Evening Sky occupies a unique place in the music world. The band plays a style they loosely refer to as “roots jazz.”
So what is “roots-jazz?” I spoke to well-known local musician and bassist Joe Potenza to learn more about the genre and Evening Sky’s new release. First order of business, just getting out and doing live shows.
“It’s getting a little busier lately which is a pleasant surprise,” said Potenza. “Of course, as we’ve kind of learned, it could all go south at any minute. I’ve tried to embrace the uncertainty lately.”
Potenza recalled when the pandemic restrictions went into effect two years ago.
“I was doing a brunch gig on March 15th, I think it was a Sunday. I was due to start at noon at a restaurant and someone said ‘let’s watch the press conference first.’ And then the Governor came on and shut everything down … we played a set and then went home for two years,” lamented Potenza.
Two years later, the new album, The Desert at Night is out. “As of Friday March 4th, the recording became available for streaming and downloading on Bandcamp. We’ll have copies of the CD at the show,” said Potenza.
So what does the music sound like?
“I don’t know that we necessarily want to be pegged by a lot of people as a jazz band … I’d say we are jazz informed, in the sense that there’s a lot of improvisation, the way we approach the compositions. There’s a tune on there called “Bill’s Porch” which is kind of a slow, spacey sort of thing. The title comes from the fact that it was inspired by Bill Frisell. Now, is Bill Frisell a jazz player or is bill an Americana guy? The answer is yes,” joked Potenza.
“So it’s not one or the other of those styles, ‘Bills Porch,’ for example, even when we do it live, it opens up. It’s very wide open but not aggressive improvisation, sometimes it sounds like Bill Frisell, sometimes it sounds like the Grateful Dead. We grew up listening to that stuff too,” explained Potenza.
“On the other hand, the improvisation is informed by guys who have jazz in their background. Then there’s other tunes that are straight-up blues or funk, and also a couple that feature Wendy Klein, the flutist who has joined. Those have more of a jazz feel, they’re in ¾, and they swing a little bit more.”
When listening to Evening Sky, music fans might have to think out a little outside the box.
“This has been the message…. we want to get people to just hear the band because they’re going to be surprised. If they’re jazz fans, and they see a pedal steel guitar and curl up their nose and think they’re not gonna like it, well, they’re gonna like it. Because our pedal steel player understands Bill Frisell and John Coltrane,” Potenza explained.
Given the blended identity, choosing a band name was a bit of a challenge for Evening Sky.
“We didn’t want to name it something like Jazz the Prairie or something like that, or overtly use the word Americana or roots,” said Pontenza.
He explained that the name comes from the feeling the band evokes. “We think it kind of evokes a peaceful feeling, but maybe a little bit ominous, there’s a lot of the unknown in the night sky.”
The core band includes Potenza on bass, Eric Hastings on drums, Chris Brooks on pedal steel guitar, and Gino Rosati on guitars. The album release party will also feature flutist Wendy Klein, who directs the jazz programs at the RI Philharmonic School of Music. “She is a great improviser and was in Joe Parillo’s ensemble for years. Gino wrote a couple of tunes with her in mind,” said Potenza.
Post pandemic, the band is looking forward to doing more live gigs in the coming months. “The Parlour in Providence has let us have the second Saturday of every month, from 5 PM-8PM. They’ve been great, we did live streams there and they let us shoot a video in the bar.” We want to find venues where people really want to listen to the band.”