First, and probably most unique of all, was Evans’ capacity to “hear and discern” the sounds that swirled around his head. Here he in the sole company of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus in the dialect of jazz and if the circle were widened for all the aforementioned writers and arrangers, in the celebrated company of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
Among some of the most significant aspects of the career of the legendary Gil Evans that seems lost to listeners of great music is that his reputation rests on the shoulders of Miles Davis. Anyone familiar with his seminal work with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and with his magnificent 1964 Verve music release, The Individualism of Gil Evans would understand that the genius of the Toronto-born composer and arranger, and steward of what came to be known as the “cool” sound, goes far beyond the five famous albums he arranged for Davis. Surely it will take just one listen to Ryan Truesdell’s remarkable album, Centennial—Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans to be re-oriented with the singular genius of one of modern music’s true masters. Just what did Gil Evans’ genius comprise of?
First, and probably most unique of all, was Evans’ capacity to “hear and discern” the sounds that swirled around his head. Here he in the sole company of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus in the dialect of jazz and if the circle were widened for all the aforementioned writers and arrangers, in the celebrated company of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. This, of course, has a direct impact on the wondrous palette of colours that all three men brought to the music they conceived. Moreover, like the other two musicians, Evans’ music appears to have “The Hand of God” in it: it almost seems as if while holds the musical brush with which he paints his scores, the palette is in the hands of The Divine Master. This aspect of Evans’ ingenuity is all over the album of all but forgotten music that Truesdell has lovingly crafted to life.
The hypnotic opening of Gil Evans’ masterful chart “Punjab” contains another stroke of genius; this one is from the pen of Truesdell, who added the tabla in “jaap tal,” an elementally beautiful and impossibly entrancing Indian rhythm, which appears to interlock the theme and melody of the piece into a dusty stretch of rusts and gold’s, with splashes of vivid greens and reds of an Indian landscape. As the music cooks and boils and bubbles the exquisite glimmer and bronzy tones of brass and woodwinds carry the music upward. This is sensational and individual Gil Evans at his best and although the chart rings with Evans’ ingenuity it also smacks of Truesdell’s incredible talent as well.
Another aspect of Evans’ ingenuity was his ability to make a small ensemble sound like an enormous orchestra. Centennial contains several gems of an example of this aspect of Evans’ talent. One that is sure to beguile the listener and drawing in the mind’s mind is the chart, “Smoking My Sad Cigarette,” which features the achingly beautiful voice of Kate McGarry. This chart uses just eight (+the vocalist) musicians and with magical use of the tone and timbre of instruments such as the baritone saxophone and the piccolo, and the tenor violin as well trombone and bass trombone, the colours are multiplied and magnified so magically as to suggest an infinitely fuller ensemble. McGarry is mesmerising as she works the lyric in a series of tortured sighs providing such a memorable rendition to the music that only Gil Evans could have conceived.
Thus the third aspect to Gil Evans’ genius is revealed and this is his way with vocal music. The memory of some of his excellent work with Helen Merrill and, of course, Lucy Reed is conjured up by the three vocal charts on this record. In addition to Kate McGarry’s exquisite vocals, there are wondrous charts carried on the shoulders of Wendy Gilles (“Beg Your Pardon”) and the elementally sad “Look To The Rainbow,” which features the mystically beautiful voice of the inimitable Luciana Souza.
But just before that chart is what could easily be the tour de force, the magical medley “Waltz / Variation On The Misery”. This music picks up in scope and spread from where “Punjab” left off at the beginning of the record. It clearly shows the bold manner in which Gil Evans uses tones and textures to create a musical canvas like no other musician who has blessed the history of this art then or now. And bringing all this to life for again so all can remember his Evans’ true genius is a group of musicians led by an inspired conductor, Ryan Truesdell. All this music comes together to make not just one of the most memorable repertoire albums, but quite simply one of the most memorable albums in a long, long time.
Tracks: Punjab; Smoking My Sad Cigarette; The Maids Of Cadiz; How About You; Barbara Song; Who’ll Buy My Violets; Dancing On A Great Big Rainbow; Beg Your Pardon; Waltz / Variation On The Misery / So Long; Look To The Rainbow.
Personnel: Henrik Heide: flute, piccolo; Jesse Han: flute, piccolo, bass flute; Jennifer Christen: oboe; Sarah Lewis: oboe; Ben Baron: bassoon; Michael Rabinowitz: bassoon; Alden Banta: bassoon, contra bassoon; Steve Wilson: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Dave Pietro: alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Scott Robinson: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet. Brian Landrus: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, alto flute, piccolo; Charles Pillow: flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, English horn; Adam Unsworth: French horn; David Peel: French horn; John Craig Hubbard: French horn; Augie Haas: trumpet; Greg Gisbert: trumpet; Laurie Frink: trumpet; Ryan Keberle: trombone; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Marcus Rojas: tuba; James Chirillo: acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Romero Lubambo: acoustic guitar; Frank Kimbrough: piano, harmonium; Jay Anderson: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Joe Locke: vibraphone; Mike Truesdell: timpani, marimba; Dave Eggar: tenor violin; Dan Weiss: table; Kate McGarry: voice (2); Wendy Gilles: voice (8); Luciana Souza: voice (10).
Ryan Truesdell – Official website: www.ryantruesdell.com
Release date: May 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama