While perhaps best remembered for his landmark Miles Davis collaborations, arranger/bandleader/pianist Gil Evans' work with his own ensembles is notable in its own right. This reissue of The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions combines two crucial Evans albums from 1958 and 1959: New Bottle, Old Wine and Great Jazz Standards. The fifteen overall performances capture Evans' expansive harmonic palette, painted by an all-star ensemble of colorists, offering an advanced reinterpretation of the great jazz tradition that still shines with a modern luster.
Evans' singular takes on early jazz chestnuts by W.C. Handy and Jelly Roll Morton are joined by exceptional renditions of bebop nuggets like Charlie Parker's "Bird Feathers and Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight. It may seem that, even by the late 1950s, these tried-and-true standards had been overplayed to the point of exhaustion. But Evans and company's recitals of the tunes transcend mere arrangement and become case studies in the concept of recomposition. The essential melodic characteristics of the original songs are intact, but altered so significantly that the effect is of hearing brand new musical entities.
Like Duke Ellington before him, Evans hand-picked an arsenal of soloists to re-imagine tunes with their own inventive styles. Cannonball Adderley blazes throughout the set of Old Bottle, New Wine, lending his soulful, blues-drenched alto tone to searing solos that mark a high point of his prolific career. Meanwhile, Steve Lacy's soprano is featured on the Great Jazz Standards sessions, his crisp, angular shards of melodic logic a perfect match for pieces like "Straight No Chaser. The brisk Monk favorite is tagged here with a polyphonic, multi-horn blowout that simultaneously recalls New Orleans Dixieland while pointing the way toward the avant-garde movements of the '60s.
A fluent percussion discussion is on full display as well, through the work of four distinguished drummers. While Philly Joe Jones only appears on one track (Fats Waller's "Willow Tree ), his crackling, combustible energy is instantly recognizable. Art Blakey throws his big beat all over the lion's share of the New Bottle, Old Wine tunes, lighting up the large ensemble with fire and finesse. Blakey protégés Elvin Jones and Dennis Charles, each masters of rhythm in their own right, split the remainder of the compositions. Charles is heard to stunning effect with the open-ended sense of swing that made him such a valuable accompanist to Cecil Taylor, while Jones showcases the signature rolling-triplet attack and shifting polyrhythms that he would perfect during his tenure with John Coltrane.
With the dust blown off of these essential sessions in this limited-edition, Blue Note Connoisseur Series CD, hopefully sufficient interest will be sparked to ignite a deeper exploration into Evans' somewhat overlooked discography as a leader.
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.