Gil Evans Project – Lines of Color: Live at Jazz Standard
(Blue Note / ArtistShare. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)
The Gil Evans Project is the brainchild of composer, conductor and producer Ryan Truesdell, who has been working for several years to keep Gil Evans’ unique sound in the public eye. Lines of Color was recorded two years after the orchestra’s début CD marking its subject’s centennial in 2012, an album which was nominated for two Grammys and won one.
Unlike those who rely on transcriptions, Truesdell uses original manuscripts to guarantee correct instrumentation and orchestration, and this – together with the skill of top-notch players – results in music that is as genuine as possible. If you fear that this meticulous attention to detail might be a recipe for studious sterility, don’t worry. The 25-strong band produces potent music – captured over six nights at the Manhattan club Jazz Standard – and the audience is suitably responsive and appreciative.
Bix Beiderbecke’s Davenport Blues is an early highlight in the set: Evans’ peerless 1959 arrangement leaps out at you with a slow, stately majesty, and the young Australian trumpeter Mat Jodrell creates great excitement.
During the course of his painstaking research, Truesdell discovered over 50 “new” compositions and arrangements in addition to Evans’ known discography, and six of them are presented here. Just One of Those Things gets a lively treatment, with fine soprano sax from Steve Wilson. Evans’ tune Gypsy Jump has an arresting brass fanfare and a bouncy interlude for the reed section before the soloists – including Donny McCaslin on tenor – take centre stage. This would have made people sit up and listen when it was written in 1941. Even the less successful pieces Avalon Town and How High the Moon have noteworthy touches, and benefit from hand-picked players including pianist Frank Kimbrough and saxists Scott Robinson and Dave Pietro.
Evans arranged for singers at various times during his career, and the vocal tracks have a somewhat old fashioned feel that befits their 1947 vintage. Wendy Gilles is showcased on Can’t We Talk It Over and Sunday Drivin’. She also sings on Everything Happens to Me which, alongside the sumptuously-textured Moon Dreams, forms a seamless Easy Living Medley.
The downside to Truesdell’s use of authentic arrangements is that the more familiar tunes do not sound very different from the originals. However, two fabulous creations from 1964 – Time of the Barracudas and the canonical Concorde – were rarely performed during the last 20 years of Evans’ life, so it’s particularly good to hear them “live”. The former has a startling trombone solo by Marshall Gilkes; the latter, a surprise in the form of Lois Martin‘s viola.
Few things match the unfettered excitement of the “real” Gil Evans Orchestra, and those of us who witnessed the band in full cry will surely never forget it. Truesdell and his cohorts are much more than a repertory band, and they have a damn good shot at evoking the spirit of one of the icons of 20th century jazz.
LINK: Review of Ryan Truesdell and the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra at the 2013 WDR3 Jazzfest (German then English)