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Centennial-- Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project

This will no doubt be considered one of the most significant jazz releases of 2012, the year Gil Evans would have celebrated his 100th birthday (May 13). Ryan Truesdell is a composer, copyist, the co-producer of Maria Schneider's acclaimed Sky Blue CD, and, most importantly in this case, a Gil Evans scholar. From his extensive research, detailed in his illuminating notes for Centennial, Truesdell selected 10 Evans arrangements that were never recorded or never released. They range chronologically from 1946 to 1971, and five of them were done for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. Principal soloists over the ten rewarding tracks include Frank Kimbrough, Steve Wilson, Dave Pietro, Greg Gisbert, Scott Robinson, Donny McCaslin, Joe Locke, and Marshall Gilkes, as well as vocalists Kate McGarry, Wendy Gilles, and Luciana Souza.

"Punjab" was written for, but did not appear on the 1964 Individualism of Gil Evans LP. Truesdell thoughtfully added tabla player Dan Weiss since Evans had offered little guidance as to rhythm. The moody, almost ominous opening flowers into an energizing call and response between various instruments, all playing harmonic variations on the stirring theme derived from Indian folk music. Pianist Kimbrough and altoist Wilson create solos that straddle post bop jazz and Indian music. The backing orchestral voicings inspire Wilson as they build in intensity. The diversity of textures keeps the listener immersed and mesmerized for the full 14 minutes. The arrangement of "Smoking My Sad Cigarette" was left unused for a 1957 album by singer Lucy Reed. It's a blues tune that was recorded in 1952 by Jo Stafford. The unusual (but not for Evans) instrumentation includes bass clarinet, bassoon, bass trombone, and tenor violin. McGarry's sensual, distinctive vocal meshes well with the sometimes eerie, predominantly rich and ample sonorities engendered here.

"The Maids of Cadiz" utilizes Evans' complete 1950 arrangement for Thornhill, and not the abridged one for the 1957 Miles Davis Miles Ahead album. This exotic sounding piece, with fanfares, features Kimbrough's darting piano, Gisbert's warm muted trumpet, and Pietro's incisive alto. "How About You" was recorded live by Thornhill in 1947, but never in a studio, and Truesdell includes the flute/piccolo section that Evans added. French horns introduce the track rather mournfully, which then swings mightily full orchestra. Robinson's limber clarinet and tenor, and Gisbert's blaring trumpet help elevate this quick, very modern sounding three-minute effort, which, alas, ends much too abruptly. Kurt Weill's "Barbara Song" is represented by Evans' 1971 arrangement for a 24-piece Berlin Jazz Festival "dream band," as opposed to the version used on the 1964 Individualism recording. The tapestry of colors produced by the orchestra is both substantial and transfixing, with oboes, bassoons, and French and English horns in the mix. One expects Miles Davis to launch a solo at any second (Wayne Shorter soloed in '64), but instead vibraphonist Locke is given the honor, adroitly and passionately navigating the surrounding stimulating terrain.

Evans' 1950 arrangement for Thornhill of "Who'll Buy My Violets" comes with a calming bolero tempo. It's an example of how Evans could take an unexceptional tune from the '20's (recorded by Tommy Dorsey in the '30's and Pat Boone in the '50's) and garner it with a recipe of harmonies that raises it above the norm. Robinson's clarinet and Kimbrough's piano contribute brief lyrical interludes that enrich the personality of the work. "Dancing on a Great Big Rainbow" is an Evans original composition that was in the books of the Thornhill, Les Brown, and Tommy Dorsey bands but was never recorded until now. Sultry harmonies and intricate ensemble passages contrast with McCaslin's energetic, jabbing solo. Kimbrough and Gisbert make succinct statements, the former boppish, the latter exclamatory, as this 1950 arrangement generates momentum and is remindful to some extent of West Coast jazz. "Beg Your Pardon" was arranged for Thornhill in 1946. The pop song is sung vivaciously in '40's "girl singer" style by Wendy Gilles. The rhythmic, swaying attack of the orchestra provides bite and meat to this just under three minute diversion, as does altoist Pietro's darting obliggatos.

"Waltz/Variation on the Misery/So Long" is a medley of three Evans' works that he arranged for the 1971 "dream band." Each piece was recorded separately by Evans, but never before now in this form as one continuous whole. "Waltz" has enticing interaction between Locke's vibes and Kimbrough's piano before a brass eruption. A succession of exuberant unison passages and counter lines leads to a dashing Gilkes trombone solo, followed by a hyperactive improv from Locke. "Variation" gets under way with deep tone colors reminiscent of parts of Duke Ellington's The Far East Suite, but soon goes in a more incendiary direction thanks to McCaslin's probing free form solo. As the medley winds down with "So Long," and still more bottomless accentuations, it is Wilson's alto that regales us with a brilliantly expressive solo containing sweeping extended progressions.

The concluding "Look to the Rainbow" was arranged for the title tune of Astrud Gilberto's 1965 album, but was not used. Romero Lubambo's luminous acoustic guitar intro, Jay Anderson's concise bass solo, Souza's endearing vocal, and the lush multitude of harmonies which beautifully unite flutes with French horn, trombones, bassoons, tuba, and trumpet, make this a most memorable interpretation of the Harburg/Lane tune.

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Scott Albin