MILES DAVIS /GIL EVANS – Sketches of Spain – Newly recorded by Lew Soloff, trumpet/Harmonie Ensemble New York/Steve Richman – Sheffield Lab

by | Oct 26, 2010 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

MILES DAVIS /GIL EVANS – Sketches of Spain – Newly recorded by Lew Soloff, trumpet/Harmonie Ensemble New York/Steve Richman – Sheffield Lab 10089, 41.5 min. *****:

This may be one of the most important albums of the year not only in the jazz category but also in world music and crossover. The new recording marks the 50th anniversary of the original 1960 Davis/Evans LP release, which became one of the most accessible albums in the career of Miles Davis and is on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Its great appeal is shared by fans of jazz, classical and pop.

The original paired Miles with genius arranger-composer Gil Evans and was one of several projects on which they collaborated. An innovative arrangement of the slow movement of Rodrigo’s popular Concierto Aranjuez was the beginning of the album, but at the start it was not even planned to have an all-Spanish album. The second selection came from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla – a movement of his El Amor Brujo ballet titled “Will o’ the Wisp." The other three selections were Evans’ originals: "The Pan Piper" – based on a song of a Peruvian street vendor, "Saeta" – a song from the Good Friday street processions in Andalusia, and finally "Solea" – a sort of Andalusian blues, lamenting lonelinness. (A bonus track included on a 1997 reissue – "Song of Our Country" – is not here because it was not on the original.) The total timing of the new version is almost exactly the same as the Davis/Evans original.

All five parts of Sketches of Spain have not been performed until recently. Last year saxist/flutist Dave Liebman released a version with the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra, but of course that featured reeds instead of the trumpet. Conductor Steve Richman had wanted to do the Sketches of Spain project for a long time, in homage to Miles and Gil. His close family friend, trumpeter Bernie Glow, had played on the original recording and regaled Richman with stories about the Davis/Evans album sessions. After getting permission to perform the complete Sketches in 2008, Richman secured acclaimed trumpeter Lew Soloff, who among other things was lead trumpet of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and a member of Blood, Sweat and Tears. Richman’s background also ties in perfectly with the Sketches project – among his previous albums are “Gershwin by Grofé,” and “Symphonic Jazz,” and he is currently working on his album combining Tchaikovsky’s original Nutcracker Suite with the Strayhorn-Ellington Nutcracker Suite.

Richman writes in the note booklet: “We tried to bring something fresh, and of ourselves to Sketches while remaining faithful to the spirit of this unique work and its original creators.” Soloff follows most of Miles’ original solos (which had been written out by Evans), but brings a greater depth to them – even though, of course, he’s not Miles. In spite of this being a standard 44.1K CD, there is much greater clarity in the instrumental details, with subtle elements of Evan’s atmospheric orchestrations coming thru beautifully. All the members of the Harmonie Ensemble play at the very highest levels. They had numerous rehearsals for an earlier live performance of Sketches, whereas there was very little rehearsal in the studio of the original Sketches. My only disappointment is that this disc is not available as a SACD (as is available of the original), an audio-only Blu-ray or a 96K/24-bit DVD-R or download. Then the increased resolution of the newer recording would be fully appreciated. Since Sheffield was once the leading audiophile record label, that would seem to fit!

— John Sunier

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