Miles Davis 1959 – Porgy and Bess…Kind of Blue And More
(Cadogan Hall, London, 21 September 2019. Review by Peter Vacher)
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so the old adage goes. Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company and regular MD Pete Long appear to be up collectively for whatever challenges come their way. Or that they set themselves. Hence this highly impressive endeavor. If 1959 was a key year for Miles Davis – think Porgy and Bess, Kind of Blue, Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain – then the decision to recreate a host of selections from that extraordinary body of work was destined to be a demanding if not impossible proposition. Consider the role of the key soloist, the trumpeter out front, representing Miles, you could say, backed by those lustrous Gil Evans-created sounds. Who to select?
The choice fell to Freddie Gavita, easily the most prominent of our accomplished local young brassmen, and to his credit, he took it on without deviation, repetition or ever wandering from the point. Of course, the temptation might have been to replicate the Miles-ian solo sequences note-for-note, assuming that to be feasible, but Gavita opted instead to hint at the original solo outline, his sound pristine and momentarily fragile, before then bringing his own keen creativity to bear. A tricky assignment but one accomplished here with commendable alacrity.
Of course, it’s the gorgeous orchestral backdrops on the Davis recordings that are equally compelling. For this assignment, Long augmented his usual big band team with three French horns and tuba, reeds doubling on such arcane additions as bass-flute, bassoon and oboe, alongside a medley of clarinet, bass-clarinets and assorted saxophones. Having had just a single intense day to prepare these performances, their orchestral blends seemed so exact that, for a moment or two, one might have been transported back to New York a mere 60 years ago. It’s a tribute to what Long described as their ‘Olympic standard sight-reading’ that so much was accomplished so well, but it’s the innate musicianship, the fire and the zest of these musicians, that mattered too.
A special set of brownie points goes to tubaist Mark Easener whose mobility on that cumbersome instruments impressed; his part so vital in the aural landscape devised by Evans. The way the horns coloured the ensembles was a delight as well: just to hear Summertime was a timeless joy. Kind of Blue demanded a difference of approach of course: this time it was Steve Fishwick front and centre in the break-out sextet, again infusing those classic Davis solos with his own inflections, Pete Long himself in coruscating form on alto and Martin Williams alongside on tenor, the rhythm section of pianist Gunther Kuermayr, bassist Jerome Davies (tireless throughout) and Pite the mighty on drums, swinging hard.
The show, complete with a climactic orchestral version of So What that allowed each trumpeter a chance to blow, was graced by a rapt audience and anchored in trenchant style by broadcaster David Hepworth. A triumph for Long and Pite, a venture worth the risk, and deserving of far wider circulation than just this single iteration… © Peter Vacher
The Jazz Repertory Company/ Pete Long Orchestra
Pete Long, Musical Director
David Hepworth, Presenter
Trumpet soloist: Freddie Gavita and Steve Fishwick
Mark Armstrong, Mike Davis, Kevin Wedrychowski, Alan Berlyn, trumpets; Ian Bateman, Andy Flaxman, Adrian Fry, trombones; Andy Derrick, bass-trombone; Mathew Gunner, Hugh Seenan, Jake Bagby, French Horns; Mark Easener, tuba; Martin Williams, tenor saxophone, bass-clarinet, bass-flute, flute, piccolo; Paul Nathaniel, ts, b-cl, cl; Adrian Revell, ts, b-cl, cl; Colin Skinner, as, bassoon, cl; Juliet Lewis, as, oboe; Gunther Kuermayr, piano; Jerome Davies, bass, ; Richard Pite, drums.