Gil Evans was a slow arranger. He tended to agonize over charts—at times missing deadlines as he pushed to make bigger impressionistic statements, set off more romantic contrasts or simply wound up entangled in revisions. In some cases, his focus on the music overshadowed the need to keep an eye on the clock. Hal McKusick's and Creed Taylor's separate experiences with Evans are cases in point.
But Evans' tortured experiments produced magnificent results, and what wasn't recorded over the years is now our gain. After two years of hard work, composer-copyist-producer Ryan Truesdell has released a new ambitious CD, Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. The album gives the post-war orchestral visionary another lap around the jazz track on the 100th anniversary (May 13) of his birth.
Curiosity clearly is one of Truesdell's [pictured] finest traits, for it's his love of Evans' works that led him to find unrecorded charts, assemble and conduct an impeccable orchestra, and record the works flawlessly. As a leading copyist—the person hired to turn a finished score into individual musicians' parts—Truesdell is deeply networked with artists who were able to put him in touch with Evans' family, which granted Truesdell access to the Evans archive.
What Truesdell found were arrangements that either were never recorded or never released. He left the original arrangements pretty much alone, though in some cases he had to rewrite passages that Evans had erased—requiring a careful eye and surgeon-like decisions.
So what are these newly uncovered charts?
Punjab is an Evans' original written for his 1964 album The Individualism of Gil Evans but left off the LP. This composition is loaded with the usual shifting of orchestral tempos and textures that were emblematic of Evans' touch. Truesdell delicately added an Indian tabla drum for thematic effect.
Smoking My Sad Cigarette was a saloon blues recorded by Jo Stafford in 1952 and Ann Gilbert in 1956. Here, Kate McGarry [pictured] handles the vocal on an arrangement originally intended for Lucy Reed's 1957 recording date with Evans.
Maids of Cadiz, by classical composer Léo Delibes, was recorded by Woody Herman (1939) and Benny Goodman (1947). But the best-known version of this song is Evans' own arrangement in 1957 for Miles Davis on Miles Ahead (Miles +19). Interestingly, this one was scored by Evans in 1950—seven years before the Davis recording date. There are easy-go Claude Thornhill touches throughout.
The standard How About You originally was arranged by Evans for Thornhill and recorded in 1947 during a live performance by the Thornhill band at the Glen Island Casino north of New York. But for some reason the band never recorded the arrangement in a studio. It's a fascinating chart with sighing horns, inquisitive trumpets and a persistent clarinet.
Barbara's Song from Act 1 of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera (1928) is a collage of shadows and interague. A version appeared on The Individualism of Gil Evans (1964).
Who'll Buy My Violets was arranged by Evans for Thornhill in the late 1940s and has a soft, relaxed bolero tempo.
Dancing on a Great Big Rainbow, an Evans original, was written and arranged for Thornhill but never recorded. A fascinating mix with shades of West Coast jazz.
Waltz/Variation on the Misery/So Long is an orchestral medley of Evans' works. All three were recorded separately by Evans over the years, but not in this format.
With the release of this album, we hear once again why Gil Evans was a potent influence on so many arrangers in the 1950s and beyond. The orchestra that Truesdell assembled for this new album is so refined and sensitive, and the instruments so sharp and distinct, that the CD could easily be thought of as Gil Evans' last.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Ryan Truesdell's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans at iTunes or at Amazon here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Truesdell talking about the recording...