Gil Evans and his Orchestra – New Bottle Old Wine (1958) – World-Pacific/Pure Pleasure stereo ST 1011 *****:
Gil Evans Orchestra – Great Jazz Standards (1959) Capitol/Blue Note/ Pure Pleasure mono PPAN WP1270 *****: [TrackLists below]
I think somebody at Pure Pleasure in the UK likes Gil Evans, and that’s great because I think he was one of the greatest composer/arrangers ever for big band. He’s been missed since his death in 1988. He was mostly self-taught, and began working with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. He is best known for his collaborations with Miles Davis on Sketches of Spain, Porgy and Bess, and other albums, but he was a major figure in cool, modal, free jazz and jazz fusion. His contributions to the several albums with Miles were just as important as those of Miles, although Evans didn’t get equal credit.
The first album here was arranged, co-produced and conducted by Evans, and recorded in NYC in April and May of 1958. Cannonball Adderley is the main solo voice here, on alto sax, and Evans shows the same abilities to showcase his soloing that he always did with Miles Davis, backing his solos with a rich and varied big band sound that often has the tone colors of a full symphony orchestra. This was only Evans’ second album as a leader. The idea was for him to do his unique arrangements of eight jazz standards, beginning with the early “St. Louis Blues,” and running chronologically thru jazz history to the Charlie Parker tune “Bird Feathers” (actually one of two Parker tunes of that title).
There are also no silences between the tunes. As with Miles Ahead and some of his other albums, the tracks delves into one another, sort of as with a one-movement symphony. Of course a Monk tune demands to be included if one is sampling jazz history in eight tunes, and Evans’ sensitive arrangement of “Round Midnight” is one of the finest ever. Other soloists heard here include Frank Rehak, trombone; Johnny Coles, trumpet; and Chuck Wayne, guitar.
I had an interesting A/B comparison on tap for this album. The Pacific Jazz/EMI/Manhattan CD reissue of 1988 was on hand in my collection. This was before sonic quality on most non-pop CDs took a sizable step forward, but I hadn’t expected such a prominent difference between the CD and the audiophile LP. The CD reissue presented all the instruments with the greatest clarity, as well as the fine details in the complex arrangements. However, compared to the vinyl the CD sounded like all the instruments were flattened out and pasted on a giant sheet of glass in front of the speakers. The Pure Pleasure LP, on the other hand, had the greatest depth—an almost 3D effect compared to the CD. And it wasn’t just ambience, as heard on many vinyl vs. CD comparisons. It also had the clarity and detail, but with a more subtle presentation—not a bit of the semi-harshness of the CD.
Although the second Gil Evans album was recorded in February of 1959, it was only done in mono – tho World-Pacific’s Richard Bock achieved the same sort of wonderful mono reproduction as Rudy Van Gelder did for Blue Note. Again, the signature brass choir often used by Evans is heard in non-hackneyed and spacious voicings supporting the soloists, which include such masters as Steve Lacy, Budd Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Barber and Elvin Jones. Trumpeter Johnny Coles returns on his album, taking a similar role to that of Miles—but a bit more optimistic-sounding—in some of the arrangements.
The Monk tune this time is his “Straight No Chaser,” with a great solo by Steve Lacy. Many years ago I assembled an open-reel, and then cassette, 90-minute mix tape of every version of John Lewis’ “Django” that I had. I don’t believe I had Gil Evans’ version that’s on this album at the time, but I think this is one of the very best of the classic tune, stressing its orchestral possibilities and sounding very symphonic.
New Bottle: St. Louis Blues, King Porter Stomp, Willow Tree, Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, Lester Leaps In, ‘Round Midnight, Manteca, Bird Feathers
Great Jazz: Davenport Blues, Straight No Chaser, Ballad of the Sad Young Men, Joy Spring, Django, Chant of the Weed, Theme (La Nevada)
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered live vinyl of a great tenor saxophonist.