Friday, July 25, 2008

gil evans and miles davis - sketches of spain

i’ve always been intrigued by the paths we follow that lead us to the place we are at in this moment. music is one of those paths that if i trace it back, has followed a circuitous route with many branches, box canyons, open vistas, and is characterized by risk-taking and an equal number of beautiful and painful experiences. in this way it mirrors much of life. where did the journey of music begin for me? well, i don’t know that i can identify the beginning.

the first time i heard the music of gil evans was his album “out of the cool”. i wasn’t so informed about jazz and its many stylistic periods that i knew that the title had to do with the leaving behind of cool jazz , a form typified by its avoidance of the aggressive tempos and harmonic abstraction of bebop. cool jazz emphasized the intellectual aspects of the music including carefully detailed arrangements, innovative forms, and a completely composed feel (including the improvised sections.) as such it was a reaction to the openness of be bop.

what i did know was that it sounded different. that it sounded like it was crafted by someone who knew about music and colours, and especially that they really got something unique about the human condition and could express it through a big group of musicians. oh and getting kudos from miles? well that made gil cooler than cool!

on the subject of cool . . . cool jazz is typified by albums like miles davis’ “birth of the cool”, and dave brubeck’s massive best seller ”time out” which featured the hit tune “take five” . . . give it a listen here . . .

i picked up gil’s album at the local library and then signed it out so many times that my room would have looked like something was missing if it hadn’t been lying on the floor with all my books and drawings.

at the time i didn’t know that gil had been born in canada, (in toronto actually) back in 1912. he was born ian ernest gilmore green but changed his name to evans when he moved to california with his step father. during the fourties he moved to new york and basically lived and worked there for the rest of his life.

”out of the cool” was produced late in 1960 and was released the following year. featuring the stellar rhythm section of ron carter and elvin jones at the core, “out of the cool” was released the same year as gil’s well-known collaboration with miles davis entitled ”sketches of spain”. my favourite piece of music off "out of the cool" would have to be "where flamingos fly" which i have heard in many incarnations but which has never been rivalled for sheer mood and colour as in this version. susanne abbuehl's take on it would come a very close second.

miles worked with evans on three albums. ”miles ahead”, ”porgy and bess”, and ”sketches of spain” . considered one of miles’ most accessible albums, sketches of spain steps away from jazz and is more suggestive of colour and tone and seems to provide more of an impression of spanish music than to actually be spanish based. as miles put it “it’s music, and i like it.” gil’s arrangements from this period are immediately recognizable and serve for me as an aural depiction of the big american city against the background of which, the lone instrument makes its way.

here’s a track entitled “will o’ the wisp” from sketches of spain . . .

and here’s the beautiful “concerto de aranjuez” from the same album . . .

miles’ playing against the haunting, majestic, lush and thoughtful arrangements of gil evans is surely one of the better collaborations in jazz history.

gil's band had a very long and colourful life including an almost connection with jimi hendrix that fell apart with the singer's death but which gil continued through his interpretations of jimi's music. a lengthy association with sting of the police also resulted in a number of concerts and some recorded music.

here’s a lovely instrumental piece from the 80’s featuring (among others) drummer billy cobham, and mike brecker playing “time of the barracudas”. it starts as a languid floating blues sustained by a gorgeous trumpet solo that then takes off into a full-force big band in flight piece with all sorts of amazing solo work and if you listen to the pieces that collectively form the whole - well, it’s a stunner!

to learn more about gil evans then you should definitely visit his ”official website”. wealthy completists might like to know that a six album set of all of miles and gil’s collaborations including numerous outtakes that reveal the process of crafting the three albums they made together can be purchased here . an excellent review and overview can be found here .


Goldenrod said...

I guess I've always liked all types of jazz, Steven, including progressive. Nice selection.

steven said...

i have my mum to thank for my love of jazz. in my teens she took me to all kinds of jazz concerts and encouraged me to attend festivals and "see as many of the greats as you can before they're gone". of course there are all manner of greats but i got to see people and hear people who i now know were giants of their time. my musical tastes are broad and varied and my sole criteria is whether or not i like it and if it's "good". this allows me to listen to any genre of music and appreciate some, if not most of it!