Even though the name Gil Evans has a hallowed ring these days, the late composer / arranger's music remains for many aficionados an acquired taste. On the other hand, while that is the Gil Evans Orchestra performing on Hidden Treasures, Volume 1, the lion's share of the music brought to light isn't hisEvans wrote only two of the album's seven selections ("Moonstruck," "Eleven") and arranged only three. And although the recording was completed some thirty years after Evans' death, its subtitle, Monday Night Sessions, calls to mind the orchestra's well-received weekly concerts back in the day at the Greenwich Village nightspot, Sweet Basil.
While there's no doubt that this orchestra of New York-based stalwarts is gifted with ample power and precision (John Clark's dynamic "Groove from the Louvre" provides clear enough evidence), is that enough to carry the day? The answer depends in large measure on the listener's frame of mind and point of view. To put it another way, Hidden Treasures is by no means an easy listen. Viable chordal and harmonic disputations abound, from Pete Levin's steely, serpentine curtain-raiser, "Subway," through Evans' hard-charging finale, "Eleven." Even though the ensemble manages not only to evade those stumbling blocks but makes them work to its advantage, not everyone may understand or appreciate the album's over-all purpose, which is clearly to entertain as it enkindles the mind.
Trumpeter Miles Evans' "LL Funk" is well-named, shuffling earnestly forward to the unvarying beat of timekeeper Kenwood Dennard before the orchestra settles into a more understated groove on "I Surrender," co-written by pianist Delmar Brown (who passed away in 2017) and performed as an homage to his memory. Brown does appear on "Subway," "LL Funk" and Masabumi Kikuchi's powerful "Lunar Eclipse," which were recorded before his passing. Clark's French horn introduces "Groove from the Louvre," on which Dennard shines again with help from percussionist Mino Cinelu and trumpeters Shunzo Ohno and Alex Sipiagin. Evans' "Moonstruck," which follows "Eclipse" (can't affirm that it was planned that way), is a concise, even-tempered showcase for the ensemble, whereas "Eleven" finds everyone swinging hard behind forceful statements from alto Chris Hunter, tenor Alex Foster and Charles Blenzig on electric piano. Soloists aren't listed on the album but are named in an accompanying press release. Besides those already mentioned, they include Foster and trombonist Dave Bargeron ("Subway"), keyboardist Paul Shaffer, bassist Matthew Garrison, guitarist Vernon Reid and alto David Mann ("LL Funk"), Foster again ("I Surrender), bass trombonist Dave Taylor ("Groove from the Louvre") and pianist Gil Goldstein ("Lunar Eclipse").
Even without Evans' guidance, the orchestra exemplifies his singular temperament and style. That should make Hidden Treasures a gem of an album for those who number Gil Evans among the peerless sovereigns of big-band composing and arranging.
Subway; LL Funk; I Surrender; Groove From The Louvre; Lunar Eclipse; Moonstruck; Eleven.
Miles Evans, Shunzo Ohno: trumpet; Alex Sipiagin: trumpet (3, 4, 7); Jon Faddis: trumpet (1, 5, 6); Dave Bargeron: trombone (1, 5, 6), Birch Johnson: trombone (3, 4, 7); David Taylor: bass trombone; John Clark: french horn; Chris Hunter: alto sax, flute; David Mann: alto sax (2); Alex Foster: tenor sax, soprano sax; Gary Smulyan: baritone sax (1, 5, 6); Alden Banta: baritone sax (3, 4, 7); Gil Goldstein: piano (1, 2, 5, 6); Pete Levin: keyboards; Paul Shaffer: fender rhodes (2); Delmar Brown: synthesizer (1, 2, 5); Charles Blenzig: synthesizer (2-4, 7); Vernon Reid: guitar (2); Gabby Abularach:
guitars (1, 4, 5); Mark Egan: bass; Darryl Jones: bass (tune 2); Matthew Garrison: bass & bass solo (2); Kenwood Dennard: drums; Mino Cinelu: percussion.