Gil Evans : The Individualism of … (1963-4) Verve


Selection: Las Vegas Tango  (Evans)

. . .

Artists on the selectionLas Vegas Tango

Piano, Gil Evans ; Bass: Paul Chambers , Ron Carter; Drums, Elvin Jones; French Horn, Ray Alonge; Guitar, Kenny Burrell; Reeds, Eric Dolphy, Bob Tricarico  Garvin Bushell,  Soprano Sax, Steve Lacy; Trombone, Jimmy Cleveland, Tony Studd; Trumpet, Johnny Coles, Bernie Grow; Tuba, Bill Barber. Recorded at Webster Hall, New York City, September 1963, recording engineer Bob Simpson.

Artists across the various sessions, everyone who’s anyone, including six French horn players and six different bass players. .It is worth name-checking the who’s who of Gil’s workforce. I wouldn’t volunteer to fetch coffee and donuts

Gil Evans – piano, arranger, conductor..
Trumpet: Johnny Coles (solo), Thad Jones, Ernie Royal, Bernie Glow, Louis Mucci
Trombone: Jimmy Cleveland (solo), Jimmy Knepper, Frank Rehak,  Tony Studd
Tuba: Bill Barber
Tenor sax: Wayne Shorter (Solo)
Alto sax: Phil Woods  (Solo)
Woodwinds – flute, bass clarinet, alto sax: Eric Dolphy
Soprano sax: Steve Lacy, Bob Tricarico
Reeds, woodwinds: Jerome Richardson, Garvin Bushell, Andy Fitzgerald, George Marge
Woodwinds – flute solo: Al Block
French horn: Julius Watkins, Gil Cohen,  Don Corado, Bob Northern, Jimmy Buffington, Ray Alonge
Tenor Violin: Harry Lookofsky
Harp: Bob Maxwell, Margaret Ross
Guitar: Kenny Burrell, Barry Galbraith
Bass: Gary Peacock, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Richard Davis, Ben Tucker, Milt Hinton
Drums: Elvin Jones , Osie Johnson

Recorded variously at A&R Studios, New York, September, 1963; at Webster Hall, New York, April 6 and May 25, 1964; and at Van Gelder’s Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, July 9 and October 29, 1964. Engineers according to session, Bob Simpson, Phil Ramone, and Rudy Van Gelder. The big bonus is that the mastering of the whole record for Verve is in the hands of Van Gelder. Yay!

Artist Context:

Ian Ernest Gilmore Evans  was a Canadian jazz pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader. His first band was formed in 1933. After WWII, he moved into a small furnished basement at 14 West 55th street, New York, that became a drop in place for fellow musicians to hang out and swap ideas. “I rented the place for two years. I never knew who was going to be there when I got home and I didn’t care”. Regulars calling by were Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, George Russell and John Lewis. Charlie Parker mostly came to sleep, often accompanied by Miles Davis, which is how the Evans/Davis association began, leading to The Birth Of Cool (recorded 1949-50, arrangements by Gil Evans), and some years later, Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), Sketches of Spain (1960), and Quiet Nights (1962).

His success with Miles afforded him a few albums in his own right, including those for Impulse and Verve. His plans in the  70s for collaboration with Jimi Hendrix were aborted by Jimi’s untimely departure, though marked by the album  Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix (1975). Recognition came with just one Grammy Award, for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band. He continued  touring, combined with a regular residency, Evans and his Monday Night Orchestra at the Sweet Basil club, New York.  He left the stage for the last time in 1988, aged 75.

Music:

Recording in the late ’40s the search was on for ensembles, larger than the trio-to-quintet “combos”, but smaller than the “big bands” which were on the brink of economic unviability. Evans assembled a large palette of orchestral colors with French horns and tuba, alto and bass flutes, double reeds and harp; orchestral instruments not associated with “swing” bands, but delivering the ethereal quality heard in Gil’s arrangements.

Recorded a couple of years after his two Impulse titles Out Of The Cool, and Into The Hot. “The Individualism of” includes two compositions co-written with Miles Davis, and four tracks engineered by Rudy Van Gelder recorded at Englewood Cliffs. The various line-ups include  top artists of every instrument – Eric Dolphy, Wayne Shorter, Phil Woods, Ron Carter, Steve Lacy.

Despite having 15 players on Las Vegas Tango, this is not a “big band outing”. The composition and arrangement is a complex canvas, in the manner of George Russell and Charles Mingus, mixing structured composition with improvisation space.  Paul Chambers opens with a heaving, sliding bass riff full of menace, the opening lone trombone voice is  improvised by Jimmy Cleveland, classical Spanish forms hint at Seville and Grenada (or Las Vegas) shimmering on the horizon, a beast lumbering across this dark landscape, a slow tango with sinister purpose. Horns in unison  shriek sudden danger. Paint your own picture, this is fabulous stuff.

Gil Evans plays piano – file under Piano? No, in some other space, which lacks an obvious “File Under:   ” instruction to record stores. “Hey, boss, where do I file “Individualism?”

Gil Evans composer/arranger is not my usual territory, but it got me thinking (At last! you say) You don’t plonk on Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and expect the third violin to get up and take a great solo break. The composed elements are melodic excursions, shifting time signatures, modes, moods and manners, with a rich palette of instrument colours.

With a large ensemble, Evans has a wide range of “things” to throw at you. He can withhold sound, near silence,  a wandering lone figure, or blast you with all instruments. He can contrast sweet and sour, hot and cool, dark to light and all the shades in between. The composer/arrangers art is  to navigate all those freedoms, and still create a coherent whole. The listener’s art is to take that all in and I think I’m beginning to get it.

This album has inspired many review contributions, something of a rare event on line, so take the liberty of including them here, so not just my opinion.

Appreciating Jazz

“It’s cosmic! (Las Vegas Tango)

The initial piano line is a memorable and delicate semblance to the main line delivered with the full force of the band later in the song. The rhythm section minus the piano comes on after the piano line and plays the bassline and only chords in the song, Am7 and Em7 (as opposed to most pieces of this canon which involved intricate chordal patterns). With a normal combo this silence is okay and expected, but with a big band it’s foreboding and tense, unexpected and dark.

 

The quirky but powerful bassline and the cymbal-rich drums work out of time with the guitar to form a sound from the rhythm section that is full of movement. Shaky and dissonant, the song keeps that quiet tension within the listener throughout the entire song. Every instrument is rather muffled and dull, only once or twice do the trumpets brandish the famous metallic and piercing sound of their higher register, it transports the listener to strange state, one of a deep stillness.

 

The French horn solo (or muffled flugelhorn, I’m not exactly sure) comes after Evans’ solo on the piano and is again deep, dark, and powerful. The phrasing and vivacity of the players is evident even through the seemingly underwater nature of the song, their consistent tempo making up for the lazy melody line and languid sound.

 

The guitar solo comes in during the noise climax of the piece, contrasting the last soloist with a sharper and more precise sound. The invasive background figures during this solo would appear at first to be misplaced, but make the guitar seem like it is dodging and running among the attacking horns, a moment of great excitement.

 

Evans has made a piece here that will be one of my favourites forever: it’s cosmic, powerful and transcendental. He wields the power of the big band with a skilful hand, seen through its perfect orchestration.

 

Embracing imperfection to a point where dissonance is a pivotal theme is something that adds to the artistic quality of the song. Listen for the slide in the bassline, the chordal solo near the end from Evans himself, and the seemingly out of tune saxophone during the main melody; it’s something different and profound: the imperfections marrying the small human and the greater universe into a majestic tango.”

LJC says: Phew!

Discogs reviewer: “Hugely underrated album, one of Gil’s finest, the accompanying band are playing at their peak. The recording quality gives you the atmosphere and presence of the auditorium, you can hear the echoes and feel the energy of the playing and players as if you were present. Las Vegas Tango has panache and gusto that can blow you away. Don’t sleep on this, you will be playing it over and over again louder and louder… miss this at your peril you have been warned”
Amazon Reviewer: “an extraordinary groove and a compelling and hypnotic richly structured soundscape, interjected with sympathetic structured solos fitting seamlessly in Evans’ orchestral magic”

Yeah.

Vinyl: US Verve V8555 mono VAN GELDER

Laminated gatefold cover.

Gatefold:

Collector’s Corner

Not only is this record ridiculously and embarrassingly  inexpensive, the original vinyl is the only issue in mono, as the Evil Silver Disc went to Stereo. Sellers naturally hype up the presence of Eric Dolphy (not especially audible) and Paul Chambers and shouting RARE! but among the top prices we find something of a curiosity, position 2 and 3:

Reel to Reel.

Now this is interesting. A friend of a friend who reviews stuff for Hi Fi magazines assures me that reel to reel is the ultimate in audiophile quality sound. This may well be true, but domestic harmony is frayed at the best of times, due to my many  boxes and wires multiplying. A reel to reel tape machine on the coffee table would ignite World War III, isn’t going to happen, and the availability of material on tape must be extremely limited, despite this Gil Evans appearance. However I’m interested if anyone has any experiences to share of reel to reel. Or indeed  any stories about Gil Evans, or even marital discord harmony over hi-fi equipment, floor is yours.

Gil Evans : The Individualism of … (1963-4) Verve