The Gil Evans Project’s Concierto de Aranjuez from Sketches of Spain
(Streamed by Jazz Standard Premieres. 6 August 2020. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
2020 has been a time of jazz innovation. Some of this innovation was acted on instantly (impromptu outdoor concerts), some swiftly (live-streaming solo shows from home), and some with a little planning (live streaming socially-distant trios from empty venues). Some innovation takes a little longer; innovation like the Gil Evans Project’s remotely recorded audio-visual presentation of Concierto de Aranjuez from the Gil and Miles collaboration Sketches of Spain.
Over 20 musicians recorded their parts and videoed their own performances from the comfort of their own homes, and this collection was ambitiously (and painstakingly) spliced together as one video montage of the ensemble playing to their own music – one piece conjured together from disparate parts and premiered online bookended by interviews and Q&As.
Conductor and creative director of the Gil Evans Project Ryan Truesdell explained how this came about, as a response to their May shows of their Sketches of Spain project having been cancelled. It would have been their 9th year performing as a large ensemble at the Jazz Standard, since their first performance in 2012 of unrecorded Gil Evans Works. But instead of premiering a new project they’d all worked hard on, as with all shows this one was cancelled. They were suddenly out of work, timpanis and all. Concierto de Aranjuez is thus both a creative project, but also unabashedly and justifiably a commercial one looking for donations to the group (LINK BELOW).
Truesdell has spent years delving into Gil Evans’ catalogue of both known and unknown works, reworking manuscripts, and transcribing arrangement decisions which can be heard on recordings but not seen on his charts. But for this project he reached for one of Evans and Davis’ most recognisable pieces from their ensemble work starting in the late 50s. It is also suitably 60 years since Sketches of Spain was released, and the live premiere of the recording was presented by the Jazz Standard and New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
The piece is 17 minutes of a unique experience, and one which is really only possible with four months of COVID time behind us to prepare. It is fantastic for the primary reason that the composition is so compelling, and so emotive. Hearing it nearly brings tears to my eyes and images of Pete Posthlethwaite and the Grimley Colliery Band playing Concerto de Orange Juice. But here Grimethorpe’s flugelhorn is replaced by the fantastic Riley Mulherkar on trumpet, doing a beautiful and cerebral take on Davis’ haunting lines.
Large ensembles brought together remotely in the Video Conference Era are still unusual, and this video arrangement surfaces parts of ensembles which are often overlooked. Having the opportunity to so easily change the visual focus within the music means the editing can call out different instruments to highlight the nuances of the arrangement in new ways. While in a concert the only way to stand out is to stand up, here musicians in the group who are often overlooked (oboe and bassoon, I’m looking at you) are featured as prominent stars centre screen! The editing highlights the depth in numbers of the group, with what seems like an endless cast rotating on our screen (so many horns!). The up-close editing also treats us to a little of each musician’s personality with them at home wearing whatever and playing wherever they feel comfortable; whether that be a suit, pyjamas, their garden, or 80s athletic headbands.
The editing also allows unexpected time-bending moments – like a person running around the back during a panoramic photo – with some cast members managing to appear twice at the same (Alden Banta playing contrabass clarinet and bassoon simultaneously). From a technical perspective syncing the audio and video so well is obviously a feat, and credit for that seems to sit with Tyler McDiarmid as the audio engineer, as well as Truesdell for his instigation.
So commendations are due for all involved for a new musical innovation. Unfortunately, it also acts as a reminder of the live music that we are missing, and the richness and warmth, and all-encompassing sound of being in the room. Perhaps I need to invest in a home setup more like a Tokyo Listening Bar, but instead a spotty internet connection and living next to an excitable fire station make for a lower quality audio affair noisier even if the chatting punters and cocktail-shaking of the bartender aren’t here. In that respect, it is a welcome event but still a sad reminder.
The original Sketches of Spain concerts at Jazz Standard that was cancelled May 2020, planned still for May 2021. The recording will be available online afterwards for viewing at one’s leisure, which I recommend for the piece as well as the Q&A discussion on the recording process and the differences in Evans’ arrangement between double bass, trumpet and trumpet lines, amongst other things.