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If Stan Kenton's ponderous Sophisticated Approach (1961) showed how little jazz it is possible to make with an orchestra the size of Texas, Gil Evans' The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions shows how much more you can make with a lot less. The CD brings together two collections of brilliantly reimagined standards, New Bottle, Old Wine (1958) and Great Jazz Standards (1959), recorded when Evans was red-hot from two successes with Miles Davis, Miles Ahead and Porgy And Bess.
Evans' signature brass choir is in placecreatively voiced, spaciously arranged, a supple, multi-coloured, sonically surprising counterpoint to a succession of superb soloists. The added bonus, for Evans' projects, is the foregrounding of saxophone and clarinet soloistsCannonball Adderley on New Bottle, Old Wine and Steve Lacy and Budd Johnson on Great Jazz Standards.
Trombonist Frank Rehak, tubaist Bill Barber and Evans himself all get to stretch out on New Bottle, Old Wine, but the album is practically an Adderley showcase (he too was newly hot in '58). He blows his stirring, circa-Somethin' Else stew of bop and soul, and it's goodbut Lacy and the original swing-to-bop missing link, Johnson, are the ones who will make the hair on your neck curl.
Lacy's solos on Monk's "Straight No Chaser" and John Lewis' "Django" must be some of the finest pre-free improvisations he recorded, already heading from quirky to out-there. Johnson's clarinet solo on Don Redman's spooky, swing-meets-whole tone classic, "Chant Of The Weed," and slow-burning, stirring tenor solo on Evans' "La Nevada" are some of the finest the all-but-forgotten genius ever recorded. (Both tracks appear here for the first time in their original unedited form, with missing passages restored, and the whole Great Jazz Standards set has been sympathetically remixed from a newly discovered three-track master tape.)
Trumpeter Johnny Coles, featured on both albums, has the inevitable misfortune of being compared to Miles Davis and being found to be... different. Sunny, open and extroverted, he may not be a stylist of Davis' proportions, but he's an enjoyable alternative foil for Evans' arrangements.
Two magnificent but neglected albums rolled into one, and still coming up fresh as daisies.
Track Listing: St Louis Blues; King Porter Stomp; Willow Tree; Struttin' With Some Barbecue; Lester Leaps In; Round Midnight; Manteca; Bird Feathers; Davenport Blues; Straight No Chaser; Ballad Of The Sad Young Men; Joy Spring; Django; Chant Of The Weed; La Nevada (aka Theme).
Personnel: Tracks 1-8: Johnny Coles, Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal (1-3,5,6), Clyde Reasinger (4,7,8):
trumpets; Frank Rehak, Joe Bennett: trombones; Tom Mitchell: bass trombone; Julius
Watkins: French horn; Harvey Phillips (1,2,5,6), Bill Barber (3,4,7,8): tuba; Cannonball
Adderley: alto saxophone; Gerald Sanfino (1,2,5,6), or Phil Bodner (3,4,7,8): piccolo, flute,
bass clarinet, English horn; Chuck Wayne: guitar; Paul Chambers: bass; Philly Joe Jones (3),
Art Blakey (all others): drums; Gil Evans: piano, arranger, conductor. Tracks 9,10,13:
Johnny Coles, Louis Mucci, Allen Smith: trumpets; Bill Elton, Curtis Fuller: trombones; Dick
Lieb: bass trombone; Bob Northern: French horn; Bill Barber: tuba; Steve Lacy: soprano
saxophone; Al Block: flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Chuck Wayne: guitar; Dick Carter: bass;
Dennis Charles: drums; Gil Evans: piano, arranger, conductor. Tracks 11,12,14,15: Johnny
Coles, Louis Mucci: trumpets; Jimmy Cleveland, Curtis Fuller: trombones; Rod Levitt: bass
trombone; Earl Chapin: French horn; Bill Barber: tuba; Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone;
Eddie Caine: alto saxophone; Budd Johnson: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Ray Crawford:
guitar; Tommy Potter: bass; Elvin Jones: drums; Gil Evans: piano, arranger, conductor.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.