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The Gil Evans Orchestra: Live At Fabrik

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The Gil Evans Orchestra: Live At Fabrik
By the time Gil Evans led the Gil Evans Orchestra at the Hamburg Jazz Festival in 1986, it had been holding down the Monday night slot at Sweet Basil for the previous three years. The majority of the GEO's regular musicians were with him for this performance at Fabrik, a 19th century machine-parts factory converted into a glass-roofed cultural centre in 1971. Not for nothing does the sixteen-piece ensemble sound so organically attuned—to the charts and to each other—on this previously unreleased, double live album. It is a highly energized set, where form and freedom are two faces of a constantly spinning coin.

Half of the eight tracks are Jimi Hendrix compositions, so it is hardly surprising that guitarist Hiram Bullock features quite prominently. Evans was a huge admirer of Hendrix and plans were afoot to collaborate with the Seattle-born guitarist just before he died in 1970. Evans did the next best thing with The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays The Music Of Jimi Hendrix (RCA, 1974) and three players from that session, baritone saxophonist Howard Johnson, trumpeter Lew Soloff and synthesizer player Peter Levin line up in the GEO ranks for this recording. Other high-profile members include saxophonist Bill Evans, bassist Mark Egan, drummer Victor Lewis and percussionist Marilyn Mazur, who is especially busy throughout.

Evans' arrangements are above all lengthy, with three tracks weighing in at over twenty minutes, and two more just shy of that mark. They are also densely layered, rhythmically pulsating, and, given the predominance of bottom end sonics—trombones, tuba and baritone saxophone abound—somewhat dark hued. Solos are in plentiful supply, though the endless passing of the individual baton on the swing-based "Orgone" wears a little thin after a while. In fact, the music is most potent, not when solos erupt, but in the densest, darkest weave of riff and counter-riff, multiple pulses and collective soaring—orchestrated yet unrestrained.

The twenty-minute juggernaut "Stone Free" is a fortified funk fest, stormy and restless in essence. Voices, in turn, surge briefly within the maelstrom then fade back out. Simmering grooves catch fire. The "Stone Free" motif is belted out in unison. Soloists, one after another, strut their stuff. It's a massive, broiling collective jam that just doesn't let up, and it sets the template for the more extended pieces. But there is a more subtle side to the GEO as well. The easy, shuffling groove of the infectious "Up From The Skies" and the slower, reggae-tinged "Little Wing"—lent spice by a barrelling Bill Evans saxophone solo, gamelan-esque percussion and an uncredited tin whistle solo— provide the ear drums with light relief, by comparison.

The spirit of Miles Davis ghosts in and out the music. It's there in the early stages of Peter Levin's sprawling, nearly thirty-minute "Subway," where the horn arrangements harken back to the Evans/Davis collaborations of the late '50s and early '60s. Evan's own painterly interventions on keyboard throughout the two-hour set—and strikingly so on "There Comes a Time/Birdland"—conjure the atmosphere of Davis' In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969), while the melodic reference to "Gone" from Porgy and Bess (Columbia, 1959) pays overt nostalgic homage to the trumpeter.

"Sometimes, " a feature for singer Delmar Brown, signals a marked change of pace and mood. Accompanied only by synthesizer chords of orchestral hues and quietly lowing baritone saxophone, Brown's impressive multi-octave range harbours power and finesse, with the highest rung of his vocal ladder sounding—almost ludicrously—helium-induced. A thumping, Frank Zappa-esque version of "Voodoo Chile" rounds out the set, but where one might expect Bullock to let rip on electric guitar, instead, tuba player David Bargeron revels mischievously in the spotlight.

Though Gil Evans would pass away just two years later, this concert demonstrates that, even when well into his seventies, the music he marshalled was unflagging in spirit and bristling with energy. A welcome posthumous addition to the revered arranger's discography.

Track Listing

CD1: Stone Free; Up From The Skies; Little Wing; Subway. CD2: There Comes a Time & Birdland; Sometimes; Voodoo Chile; Orgone.

Personnel

Gil Evans: composer/conductor.

Additional Instrumentation

Lew Soloff: trumpet; Shunzo Ono: trumpet; Miles Evans: trumpets; John Clark: French horn; Dave Taylor: trombone; David Bargeron: trombone, tuba; Chris Hunter: alto saxophone; Bill Evans: tenor saxophone; Howard Johnson: baritone saxophone; Gil Evans: piano; Hiram Bullock: guitar; Pete Levin: synthesizer; Mark Egan; bass; Victor Lewis: drums: Marilyn Mazur: percussion; Delmar Brown: vocals, synthesizers.

Album information

Title: Live At Fabrik | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Jazzline Classics

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