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Bill Evans/Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Beauty And the Beast

Dan McClenaghan By

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The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, SNJO, under the leadership of saxophonist Tommy Smith, has proven itself to be one of the premier large ensemble outfits out there. They have released a series of uniformly excellent recording, beginning with 2002's Miles Ahead, featuring Ingrid Jensen, a remake of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans gem; an expansive take on Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue; a big tip of the hat to Duke Ellington with In the Spirit Of Duke, all of these on Spartacus Records; and a celebration of Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen's artistry on Celebration (ECM Records, 2011).

The year 2017 brings from SNJO Beauty And The Beast, a high-energy suite that Tommy Smith wrote for saxophonist Dave Liebman, a man whose musical approach veers into the beastial side of sound, and also embraces an idiosyncratic, off-kilter beauty.

But it's not Liebman here; it's saxophonist Bill Evans, the early 1980s Miles Davis sideman who played on We Want Miles (1981); The Man With The Horn (1982); Star People (1983); and Decoy (1984), all on Columbia Records.

Listening to Evans on his Davis contributions won't prepare you for this experience. Immersed in an the oceanic, impassioned majesty of the SNJO at its most fearsome, the saxophonist rips and roars on tenor, screams and wails on soprano, and also settles into moments of (almost) tender reverie. The ensemble creates a dense sound. Credit the inclusion of Andy McCreel's tuba, and electric bassist Kevin Glasgow's beefy grooves, drummer Alyn Cosker's muscular percussion. On the beauty/beast scale, the beast here is the more dominant. "Part 7" of this seven part suite, with Evans on soprano, leans to the "beauty side," but it's a assertive beauty, featuring an arrangement of comparatively restrained grandeur.

Beauty and the Beast was recorded live, with all the strengths that mode offers—the vim and vigor, the freshness and vitality—and none of the potential weakness. And Bill Evans is on top of his game, inspired, no doubt, by this top notch orchestra blowing in its "take no prisoners" fashion.

Track Listing: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7.

Personnel: Bill Evans: tenor and soprano saxophone; Martin Kershaw: alto sax; Paul Towndrow: alto sax; Tommy Smith: tenor sax; Konrad Wiszniewski: tenor sax; Bill Fleming: baritone sax; Ryan Quigley: trumpet; Ewan Mains: trumpet; Lorne Cowieson: trumpet; Tom MacNiven: trumpet; Chris Greive: trombone; Kevin Garrity: trombone; Michael Owers: trombone; Lorna McDonald: trombone; Andy McCreel: tuba; Steve Hamilton: piano; Kevin Glasgow: electric bass; Alyn Cosker: drums.

Title: Beauty And the Beast | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Spartacus Records

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