Jazz meets bluegrass

Here's something you don't see every day. Jazz musicians playing with bluegrass artists.

But then, how many guys other than Bill Evans can claim to have played for years with both Miles Davis and Willie Nelson?

In a 20-year career, saxophonist Evans has never been good about observing musical limitations. Since he burst on the scene as a 22-year-old phenom with Miles Davis' band in 1980 (Davis called him "one of the greatest musicians I've come upon"), Evans has pushed the boundaries of his music from jazz to fusion to hip-hop to reggae to Brazilian to slamming funk to jamming with Bruce Hornsby last month in France.

Bill Evans Soulgrass featuring Sam Bush will perform at Britt Saturday, Sept 6. The date is one of only four on a West Coast swing, the others being in Santa Cruz, Calif., San Francisco and Portland.

"All of the musicians are very well known in their own right," says Evans, who just returned from an extended European tour. "It is a very unique combination of instruments that works very well together."

That would be mandolinist Bush, who put on a hot show at Britt some years back, bassist Ric Fierabracci, drummer Joel Rosenblatt, violinist Christian Howes and banjoist Ryan Cavanaugh.

"Soulgrass" earned a Grammy nomination in 2005. Evans' "Other Side of Something" was released this year.

After four albums and extensive touring with Davis in the '80s, Evans left the jazz great to join guitarist John McLaughlin in a reconstituted version of the latter's Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1985. He played on 1985's "Mahavishnu" and 1987's "Adventures in Radioland," then toured with Elements and his own fusion aggregation Petite Blonde, as well as with former Police guitarist Andy Summers. More recently he's toured Europe with the band Soulbop, which he co-leads with trumpeter Randy Brecker.

Evans was one of the first to take hip-hop into jazz territory. That was in the early '90s, resulting in several landmark albums. His groove-oriented "Big Fun" (2003) featured a notable cameo by Willie Nelson. His more recent musical explorations have enlisted progressive bluegrass icons Bela Fleck and Sam Bush.

Bush is the innovative mandolin player who founded New Grass Revival, in which Fleck later played. He's since played with Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris, as well as forging a successful solo career.

Evans has been focused on Europe for most of the past 20 years, but he says he's ready to concentrate on his home country.

"People just don't know what we are all about yet," he says.

Maybe that's understandable. Fierabracci is from a jazz background, performing with Chick Corea, Billy Cobham and other giants. Rosenblatt has played with the likes of Pure Prairie League, Paquito D-Rivera and Matt Guitar Murphy.

Howes comes from a varied background, including stints with Evans, Les Paul and David Murray. Cavanaugh is an award-winning player whose influences have run from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Herbie Hancock.

"I don't think people have really heard anything like this before, to be honest," Evans says.

He says returning to the states is "a homecoming."

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