2004 appears to be the year for reevaluation of Miles Davis classics. First came g.org's A New Kind of Blue , applying a more modern bent to the iconic Kind of Blue. Now the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Jeff Lindberg, takes on the Miles Davis/Gil Evans classic Porgy & Bess , this time with Clark Terry in the trumpet seat. Tackling such a seminal album, where Miles was the featured soloist, may seem presumptuous, but the choice of Terry makes this a particularly intriguing effort, since Miles himself credited Terry as an early influence on his own playing. So getting the chance to hear the teacher reinterpret the student makes for an interesting perspective.
Utilizing Evans' charts, but with a slightly larger orchestra that features clarinets and an expanded trumpet section, Lindberg manages to treat Evans' arrangements with respect while avoiding the trap of being too literal. The sound of the orchestra is warmer, less brash than the original, which works especially well on the ballads including "Summertime" and "My Man's Gone Now." As much as the original held as both a collection of outstanding tunes and a more cohesive whole, this version may actually hang together a little better.
And what of Clark Terry? Well, for one thing, on the original recording Miles stayed exclusively with the flugelhorn, while here Terry uses both the flugelhorn and trumpet. On "Summertime" Terry uses a mute, but not the Harmon mute that became so synonymous with Davis' sound, rather one that is less piercing, a little warmer. And by using trumpet as well as flugelhorn he paints with broader strokes. That's not to say Terry is necessarily better than Miles in interpreting the material, but his blues-drenched readings are unquestionably equally valid.
You can hear why Terry was such an important figure to Miles in his early days. He shares the same sense of rich lyricism, avoiding pyrotechnic displays, instead reaching deep into the heart of the material. But more evident than anything else is the effect that a player's personality has on the way they interpret the music. Miles' reading of Porgy and Bess was dark and haunting. Terry, on the other hand, is more tender than melancholic, more poignant than brooding, and on "My Man's Gone Now" he demonstrates a pure joyfulness in his short solo that was nowhere to be found in Miles' readings.
Does this new version of Porgy and Bess have the potential to reach classic status? Hard to say, and only time will tell. Clearly any reinterpretation of the same charts means that the element of the new is gone. And for a story of misfortune, Miles' darker disposition may ultimately prove to be the most fitting. Still, Lindberg and Terry's revisiting sheds new light on a timeless piece of music and shows how approach is inextricably tied to disposition, where, amidst the tragedy, Terry's reading manages to be somehow more optimistic and hopeful.
Track Listing: Buzzard Song; Bess, You is My Woman Now; Gone; Gone, Gone, Gone; Summertime; Bess, Oh Where's My Bess; Prayer (Oh, Doctor Jesus); Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil's Crab; My Man's Gone Now; It Ain't Necessarily So; Here Come De Honey Man; I Loves You, Porgy; There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York
Personnel: Clark Terry (solo trumpet, flugelhorn, vocal on "Here Come De Honey Man") With the Chicago Jazz Orchestra: Jeff Lindberg (artistic director and conductor), John Wojciechowski (alto saxophone), Darlene Drew (alto flute, piccolo), Jerry DiMuzio (alto flute, bass clarinet), Kimberly Risinger (bass flute, flute), Larry Combs (b-flat clarinet, bass clarinet), William Overton (bass clarinet), Randy Salman (b-flat clarinet, bass clarinet), Greg Flint (French horn), Neil Kimel (French horn), Angela DeBoer (French horn), Christine Worthing (French horn replacing Neil Kimel on "Buzzard Song," "Summertime"), Danny Barber (trumpet), Kirk Garrison (trumpet, replaces Danny Barber on lead trumpet on "Buzzard Song"), Doug Scharf (trumpet), Art Davis (trumpet), Art Hoyle (trumpet), Brent Turney (trumpet, replaces Danny Barber on lead trumpet on "Summertime"), Scott Bentall (trombone), Tim Coffman (trombone), Andrew Baker (trombone), Michael Young (bass trombone), Daniel Anderson (tuba), Dennis Carroll (bass), Rob Kassinger (bass, replacing Dennis Carroll on "Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus)"), George Fludas (drums)