In the '70s composer and arranger Gil Evans, after years of outstanding studio arranging for Miles Davis and others, put together a performing orchestra which took influences from the jazz-rock and fusion concepts of the time. That orchestra released several fine albums such as Svengali (Atlantic, 1973) and There Comes A Time (RCA, 1975) and, on Monday nights from 1983 to 1994, had a long-standing engagement at the New York club Sweet Basil. Evans' sons, Miles and Noah, have now reconvened that band, using several of its old members plus special guests, for a series of three recordings. This first one covers material the orchestra played live in the Sweet Basil days.
Some of these pieces are more impressive than others, but everything carries the original orchestra's distinctive sound of forceful blocks of saxophones and brass infiltrated by electronics and rock rhythms. The opening "Subway," written and arranged by synthesizer player Pete Levin, is a prime example. It has the full orchestra lurching forward relentlessly and referring to Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" before giving way to chesty, soaring tenor from Alex Foster and groaning trombone from Dave Bargeron. "I Surrender" is another slow-tempoed highlight. Written by synth player Delmar Brown who passed away in 2017, it's a solemn, gradually rising melody that meshes horns and synthesizers together to create a spiritual mood. It also features Foster again, this time in a more soulful frame of mind.
The old live recordings of the Evans band occasionally had pieces that meandered along without catching fire and that tendency is also reflected here. Miles Evans' own "LL Funk" and John Clark's "Groove From The Louvre" are both generic and unexceptional jazz-funk tunes but do contain exciting solos. Vernon Reid contributes a swaggering and wildly distorted guitar solo to the former while trumpeters Shunzo Ohno andAlex Sipiagin and bass trombonist Dave Taylor inject high-flying life into the latter.
Three actual Gil Evans arrangements bring the CD to a satisfying close. On "Lunar Eclipse" the horns gallop like a posse chasing outlaws while the members of the rhythm section, pianist Gil Goldstein, bassist Mark Egan, drummer Kenwood Dennard and percussionist Mino Cinelu take boiling solo turns. The brief "Moonstruck" is the kind of beautifully harmonized slow blues that was one of Evans' signature sounds, and it leads right into the fiery "Eleven" with Chris Hunter's alto, Charles Blenzig's electric piano and Alex Foster's tenor squealing and grooving between battering massed horn riffs.
It is great to hear the singular sound of the Gil Evans Orchestra brought to life again. This recording may not be perfect but it's good enough to make one excited for the upcoming volumes in this trilogy. The next one is supposed to feature updated versions of classic Evans studio arrangements.
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, 3, 4, 7); Vernon Reid: guitar (2); Gabby Abularach: guitars (1, 4, 5); Mark Egan: bass;
Darryl Jones: bass (2); Matthew Garrison: bass & bass solo (2); Kenwood Dennard: drums; Mino Cinelu: percussion.