The celebrated Miles Davis/Gil Evans partnership, which produced three classic albums more than forty years ago, is undergoing a mini-renaissance that started with the recent interpretation of Porgy & Bess by trumpeter Clark Terry and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra and gave rise as well to this meticulous reprise of Sketches of Spain featuring David Liebman with the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra.
Unlike Porgy, on which Terry's approach would quite naturally be compared to Davis's, Liebman plays soprano and (on the last movement) tenor saxophone, giving the new version an essentially disparate character. And unlike Porgy, Sketches was recorded in concert at the MSM. Evans' score remains basically unchanged (Liebman did some minor tweaking), and Liebman works passionately to make it his own, even while confessing that "nothing can supplant the sound that Miles achieved in the original recording which goes straight to the heart and beyond. His soprano wails, grunts, screeches, soars and darts through and around the many rhythmic and soul-stirring passages that elaborate and intensify the five picturesque Sketches.
The first of these is the hauntingly beautiful adagio from Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, which, at more than eighteen and a half minutes, is the longest selection on the disc. Here, as elsewhere, the MSM Jazz Orchestra shows a remarkable empathy for the music, even though most if not all of its members hadn't been born when Davis and Evans created the original masterpiece. The second movement, "Will o' the Wisp, is a slow dance from Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo. Flutes are dominant on "The Pan Piper, with Liebman's soprano weaving its way among them and drummer Obed Calvaire counterbalancing its airy mood.
The last two movements, "Saeta and "Solea, were unearthed by Evans, the former taken from Andalusian religious themes, the latter derived from the Spanish word "soledad, a basic form of flamenco emphasizing the three l's: loneliness, longing and lament. Liebman pulls almost every trick from his improvisational bag on "Saeta while trumpets and snare drums establish the mood of a religious processional. His tenor lowers the pitch but not the heat on "Solea, another taut showcase for drums and ensemble whose decisive crescendo (with Liebman returning to soprano) caps a breathtaking performance.
No, it's not Davis and Evans, but these are nonetheless handsome Sketches that stand on their own and should be heard and appreciated.
Track Listing: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio); Will o
Personnel: Justin DiCioccio, conductor; Anthony Bonsera, Barbara Laronga, Phil Marciano, Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Jon Irabagon, Billy Bouffard, Dominic Lalli, John Rhodes, Kurt Bacher, reeds; Dave Marriott, Jeff Bush, Michael Fahie, Max Siegel, trombone; Mike Wilner, piano; Juan Meguro, guitar; Thomas Morgan, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Tim Collins, Wilson Torres, percussion; Georgina Harrison, harp; Jordana Elliott, bassoon; Anne Drummond, flute; Lisa Arbitrio, oboe, English horn; Jason Sugata, Jamie Campbell, Ryan Walther, horns; Jason Arnold, tuba. Guest soloist -- David Liebman, soprano, tenor saxophone.
The first record I bought was Miles Smiles. Having been a drummer since age two, hearing a young Tony Williams opened up so many possibilities for a 14 year old church drummer. My life changed that day and I've never looked back!