Keyed Up

Neal Evans

Soulive, Lettuce

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Neal Evans

Neal Evans

Musicians, when they reach a certain level of skill and intuition, become magicians. What they accomplish with the same tools as countless others transcends what one can learn in a book, school, or even at the elbow of a master. For the best players, an intangible element moves them from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and no amount of description or investigation will ever pin down exactly why they’ve got it and others don’t. And Neal Evans, the keyboard maestro for Soulive and Lettuce, is a fluckin’ sorcerer, a conjurer of textures, melodies and crushing basslines that make the air – and folks in listening range – dance. What he does with Hammond Organ, electric Rhodes and more moves with liquid charm, a fluid energy that visibly flows from his flexing, bouncing, character-filled body as he pursues synergy with his gear, fellow musicians, and audience. While what Evans does can’t be fully explained, it’s visceral as a confident hand on your thigh, an invitation to move in close and open up to what he’s throwing at ya.

Already well regarded in jam and soul-jazz spheres, Evans recently unveiled his solo debut, BANG, which carries echoes of his past but more prominently shoots him into a richer artistic future by embracing quality elements of soundtrack composition, contemporary electronica, and fat free modal moods. Like the man himself, everything on BANG is lean and sinewy, each track getting what needs doing done and then moving on in swift order. Melodies and intelligent construction outweigh jamming here, and while it’s clear in spots this is the sparring partner one knows from Soulive, it’s equally evident that we’re hearing new facets of this ever-evolving musician. No doubt, the mythic feel sought by many but possessed by few that Evans has exhibited in his funky day jobs is present, but the take away from BANG is the sharp spotlight this set throws on his compositional skills and instincts as a musical editor.

Here’s what Neal had to say in the Impound’s keyboardist survey.

Favorite keyboard? Why?
Keytar. Why not? I’ve been looking into having a left-handed Keytar made for sometime now, so I can play left hand bass. I’m serious, just you wait and see.
Tastiest keyboardist – i.e. not just soloing but also overall playing – currently working?
When I happen upon it, I do enjoy hearing Robert Glasper play – so musical
A keyboard solo I never get tired of listening to is…
That one I’ve never played.
Preferred brand of keys? Why?
It’s a bit like entering a pharmacy and pondering which brand of facial tissue to buy.
Overwhelming, I don’t know exactly, maybe it’s because I’m way more into plug-ins now. The software and virtual world has gotten so much better than hardware. What happened to great fabrication? I do enjoy my Hammond-Suzuki, Korg, Roland and Hohner instruments. I think I have a Moog and Wurlitzer Electric Piano at someone’s studio or home, or now in the home of the person(s) who unknowingly bought keyboards once owned by me off of Craigslist or Ebay.
Thelonius Monk, Bernie Worrell or Nicky Hopkins– which one gives you the biggest keyboard boner? What makes them SO sweet?
Thelonius Monk was one of my songwriting influences. He was really original and imaginative, and wrote such beautifully ugly melodies.
One lesser known keyboardist folks should check out is…
Check out my main man Eldar Djangirov. His new album Three Stories will blow you away! He’s beyond brilliant
What aspect of being a keyboardist always makes you happy?
The fact is that keyboards are kind of corny, yet you can really produce some incredible music with them. But then again, every instrument falls under that category. They are all pretty awkward and uncool, and it’s more about the people that have transformed them into something else, and inspire you create something great with them. That’s what I try and do as a keyboardist.