Thursday, June 14, 2012

Birthday Celebration and Gift

Any aficionado of 20th Century music knows the name Gil Evans (1912-1988). Fans from the 1940s remember his work with the Claude Thornhill.  The next decade started with he and Miles Davis creating "The Birth of the Cool" and then they transformed the "big band" sound with a series of Lps for Columbia Records including "Miles Ahead", "Porgy and Bess", and "Sketches of Spain."  In the 70s, Evans embraced electric keyboards and guitars, adding grit to his big band.  In the last several years of his life, he continued to work with his big band as well as smaller projects with Lee Konitz and Steve Lacy.  He and a large ensemble even did a tour of Europe with Sting. You can hear the influence of Evans' unique arrangements in the writing of Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue (among others.)

Composer-arranger-copyist Ryan Truesdell is one of many young people who have studied the work of Gil Evans but with one major difference - after immersing himself in the music, he decided to fins out more about the man and the influences as well as experiences that shaped his writing. In the early years of his development, Evans heard the music of Duke Ellington and that changed the way he looked at the palette of big band music.  During World War II, he encountered be-bop and, with the encouragement of pianist/bandleader Claude Thornhill, created arrangements that merged the many different sounds he was hearing.

With the encouragement of Maria Schneider (for whom he has worked as a copyist for the past decade), Truesdell met with Gil Evans' family and was, after a while, granted full access to all of his scores and arrangements.  What the young arranger found was amazing, works that dated back to the mid-1940s and later pieces with different arrangements. Over the space of 2 years, Truesdell has amassed an amazing amount of music, much of which had never been recorded.

With the help of ArtistShare and in time for the 100th anniversary of Evans birth, Ryan Truesdell created "Centennial", 10 newly discovered pieces recorded with a wonderful ensemble.  The core group features Frank Kimbrough (pianist), Jay Anderson (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) augmented on several tracks by guitarist James Chirillo.  The entire ensemble (13 reeds, 10 brass, 2 guitars, Dave Eggar on tenor violin, Joe Locke on vibraphone, Dan Weiss on tabla, brother Mike Truesdell on marimba and timpani plus vocalists Kate McGarry, Wendy Gilles and Luciana Souza on 1 track each) came together for 3 days of recording in August of 2011 in Studio A of Avatar Studios in New York City.  All of the larger ensemble cuts were recorded with everyone in the studio at the same time, no separate sessions for the rhythm section (although Ms. Souza and Ms. McGarry's vocals were recorded elsewhere.)

 Truesdell's sequencing is very intelligent.  The first sound one hears is tabla drums played by Dan Weiss leading in "Punjab", an Evans composition from 1964. In the manuscripts of the piece, Truesdell  found complete parts for brass and woodwinds but only 4 measures for the rhythm section.  And, when he heard the studio rehearsal tapes (the piece was originally slated to appear on "The Individualism of Gil Evans"), Truesdell heard that Evans never found the correct "groove" for the tune.That gave the young man the freedom to "play with what he had found and the results are a long (14+ minutes), languid, meditation with roots in Asian Indian folk music.

Evans fans will recognize pieces such as "The Maids of Cadiz" and "Look To The Rainbow."  The former, first heard by the record-buying public on "Miles Ahead", uses the the 1950 arrangement Evans created for the Thornhill Orchestra.  As for the latter, which first appeared in 1965 on Astrud Gilberto's Lp of the same name that Evans orchestrated, Truesdell admired the original arrangement that was pared down in the earlier version (basically, a flute shadows the vocal as opposed to horns or other reeds.)  Luciana Souza's gentle vocal over the lilting brass (Evan's brass arrangements rarely sound this "pretty") move the song like a spring breeze.  Jay Anderson's melodic bass is also prominently featured but make sure to pay attention to the brass behind him.

Other highlights include "Smoking My Sad Cigarette" originally created for vocalist Lucy Reed (who passed in 1958.)  It was the 4th arrangement for an Lp that only featured 3 of Evans' finished works.  Here, Ms. McGarry delivers a powerfully bluesy performance supported by Kimbrough, Anderson and Nash plus Brian Landrus (bass clarinet, alto flute, piccolo), Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon), Eggar's tenor violin, Marshall Gilkes (trombone) and George Flynn (bass trombone).  The fascinating blend of sounds create a "noirish" aural-scape without sounding theatrical or contrived.  "Waltz/Variation on the Misery/So Long" is a 19-minute medley that covers a wide swath of musical territory and includes strong work from Locke, Gilkes, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson and tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. Of course, the work of of Scott Robinson on numerous reeds makes the music better.

The work of the rhythm section throughout this CD is just super.  One does not think of Nash as a driver of a large ensemble but his playing is exemplary.  Kimbrough has more room here than he does in Maria Schneider's Orchestra;  his creative solos and accompaniment shine brightly.  Anderson's gentle touch and melodic interplay as well as being the solid foundation this music needs.  As for Truesdell, he exposes to the world the many facets of Gil Evans' writing and arrangements.  The use of French horns, oboe, piccolos, bassoons (contra bassoons, even), the brilliant addition of tabla to the opening track and more illustrates how Evans heard the possibilities inherent in large ensemble music. 

In interviews with both Frank Kimbrough and Ryan Truesdell, they both mentioned the tremendous amount of music that this ensemble has in its repertoire - the 4 nights they played at The Jazz Standard in New York City for the "CD Release Party", Truesdell provided material from different parts of Gil Evans' career, a new program each night. This summer, Truesdell is touring Italy with students from the Eastman School and guests such as Paolo Fresu (trumpet), Stefano de Battista (alto saxophone) and Francesco Cafiso (alto saxophone) playing music from the Evans/Miles Davis collaborations.  Then, Truesdell brings the "Centennial" ensemble to play the Newport Jazz Festival, something that Gil Evans never did.  In the meantime, this recording is a gem and deserves your attention.  For more information, go to

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