In his liner notes to the heartbreakingly gorgeous Invisible Words, pianist/composer Falkner Evans refers to the solo outing as “a record I never planned to make.” Evans’ plans were tragically upended, however, on May 19th, 2020, when his wife Linda took her own life. Invisible Words is both Evans’ celebration of Linda’s life and an integral part of the healing process he’s been undergoing since her untimely passing. Composing the album’s music became the means by which Evans returned to the piano after three and a half months spent unable to even approach the keyboard. The result, he explains, is not meant as a tribute to but a “snapshot” of his beloved wife through his own lens.
“I was trying to capture the spirit of who Linda was,” Evans says. “She had a very childlike spirit and a real curiosity about life. And she was incredibly intelligent. We were together for almost 30 years and I knew her better than anybody. So this has been something of a catharsis for me and something that I’m really proud that I was able to do.”
Always an artist who preferred the collaborative process of playing with a group of like-minded fellow musicians, Evans had never even considered recording a solo album prior to Linda’s death. His most recent release, 2020’s Marbles, featured a stellar seven-piece band including saxophonists Michael Blake and Ted Nash, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and frequent collaborators Ron Horton (trumpet), Belden Bullock (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums). His intention was to reconvene that band for a follow-up recording. That all changed as Evans’ life did that day in May, and on what would have been Linda’s birthday in January he stepped into Samurai Studio in Queens with Grammy-winning engineer Michael Marciano to record his first solo date.
Falkner and Linda had met in 1991, while he was playing a weekly Sunday night solo gig at an Upper East Side restaurant shortly after the Tulsa, Oklahoma native’s move to New York City. “I sat down at one of the bar stools and struck up a conversation with a woman who happened to be Linda’s best friend,” Evans remembers. “She introduced us and insisted that she chaperone every date. We were eventually able to have a date by ourselves, and we dated for six years and were married for 22.”
The marriage was a happy one, though Linda struggled throughout her life with depression. That battle came to an end last May, likely exacerbated by the isolation induced by the pandemic.
Devastated by his loss, Evans needed to escape the Greenwich Village apartment he and Linda had shared for more than two decades. He spent a week staying with his brother-in-law in Auburn, Massachusetts, at a beautiful home bordered by woods where he could spend his days by the swimming pool. Alone in the house one rainy afternoon, he ventured into the basement where a battered old upright piano sat.
“It was a real piece of you-know-what, but it was still a piano,” he recalls. “I thought I’d try going downstairs to see what I could do with it. I came up with the first three tunes on the record, and I liked what I heard. When I finally came back upstairs I just said to myself, ‘This is not only something I want to do, this is now something I have to do. I had been languishing and felt rudderless, and I thought this could be a way to get my ass in gear and make something positive out of a situation that was pretty horrific and unimaginable.”
Though she never exhibited publicly, Linda, a teacher of Latin American fiction, was also a dedicated visual artist whose work graces the album’s artwork. It was while packing up her studio that Evans chanced upon the handwritten quote that gives the album and its opening track their name: “Music is the invisible word, made visible through sound.”
“When I discovered this quote, I knew she didn’t make it up because it has quotation marks around it. Linda was a voracious reader, so I was sure she found it in something that she read. Regardless of where it came from, I just thought it was a really lovely quote.”
As it turns out, the line appears to be a slight misquote from British author Kate Mosse, who wrote in her 2007 novel Sepulchre, “Music is the invisible world, made visible through sound.” But it’s not the author, or even the error, that’s important to Evans; it’s the fact that the idea resonated with Linda, and through her with him. It also provided the title for a second composition, the lyrical “Made Visible.”
The tender “You’re Next, Ladybug” is named for a fond memory from one of the couple’s many trips to the local library, where the librarian called Linda to the counter with a cute reference to her penchant for wearing red. “Brightest Light” is simply a reference to Evans’ enduring picture of his wife; the adoring, shimmering tune is essayed without improvisation but imbued with profound emotion.
“Breathing Altered Air” is a phrase borrowed from Evans’ therapist, who used the phrase to describe a step in the grieving process, when some degree of normality resumes, albeit irrevocably changed. Evans wrote “Lucia’s Happy Heart” for his wife in 2006, referencing her Italian heritage and the couple’s love of traveling the country. Finally, “The Hope Card” hints at Linda’s interest in Buddhism.
Moving on from such a life-altering event takes time – a lifetime, often. Evans describes his grieving as an ongoing process, one in which Invisible Words has played a vital healing role. “I’m proud of myself that I was able to do this,” he says. “And it has been a big step in seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. A year later it’s still pretty surreal. But I’m able now to move forward, and doing this album was a big part of that.”
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Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Falkner Evans is a New York-based jazz pianist with an eclectic musical background. A third cousin to iconic author William Faulkner, Evans grew up on classic 60s rock and R&B before getting hooked on jazz in high school, then garnered his first professional experience playing with famed western swing band Asleep At The Wheel for four years. He moved to New York City in 1985 and quickly became involved in the busy scene, recruiting Cecil McBee and Matt Wilson for his leader debut, Level Playing Field. Two more trio dates followed before Evans expanded his horizons in 2011 for the quintet outing The Point of the Moon and even further for the masterful septet release Marbles in 2020.
Falkner Evans – Invisible Words
Consolidated Artists Productions – CAP 1070 – Recorded Jan. 11, 2021
Release date August 13, 2021
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