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Music Review: Ryan Treusdell and Gil Evans – Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans

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Over the years there have been a very select group of producers whose contributions have been so important as to render them stars in their own right. Sir George Martin’s status as “the fifth Beatle” comes to mind, as does Rick Rubin’s with many artists, especially Johnny Cash with the American Recordings series. Arguably, Gil Evans’ (1912-1988) work with Miles Davis was the first such instance. The three albums that Evans produced with Miles are classics one and all, Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), and Sketches of Spain (1960). Another collaboration from this period, Quiet Nights (1962), was issued later, against the wishes of Davis. Quiet Nights may have been considered inferior by Davis, but there is some wonderful music on it regardless.

Gil Evans began recording under his own name in 1957, and released his own undeniable classic Out of the Cool in 1960. There would be plenty more great music from Gil Evans in the years to come. But one scheduled meeting that held huge potential was sadly not to be, for Jimi Hendrix died before the two were able to get together. In a small way though, just knowing that Gil Evans was interested in working with Hendrix is indicative of why Evans is held in such high esteem by so many. Gil Evans was a man whose musical interests were broad indeed. The legacy he left is both varied and vast, and offers what could be considered a “master class” in music for those of such a mind.

Producer Ryan Truesdell is considered one of the foremost Gil Evans scholars, and was the first person outside the Evans family to be granted full access to Evans’ musical archives. What he discovered was astounding: nearly 50 never-before-heard works. His description of his feelings at the time say it all: “Imagine you buy an old house and discover a box of lost Beethoven manuscripts in the attic – scores that have never been heard before.”

Of the wealth of material Truesdell found, an eclectic mix of 10 have been selected for the new Centennial release. The title comes from the set of circumstances that allowed for the issuance of the album to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gil Evans. As might be expected for such a project, there was no shortage of interest from the music community, and Centennial features 35 of New York’s finest musicians.

Of the 10 tracks Truesdell chose for Centennial, half were originally written for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, including an Evans original, “Dancing on a Great Big Rainbow.” There is also an inspired arrangement of “The Maids of Cadiz,” from 1950. Seven years later, this song would be appear on Gil’s first collaboration with Miles Davis, on the Miles Ahead album. The differences between the two are striking, and clearly show how skillful Gil Evans was in adapting his arrangements to whatever the circumstances required.

For this fan, the most intriguing track is the opener, “Punjab.” The piece was written for Gil’s 1964 album The Individualism of Gil Evans, but never completed. Truesdell did an enormous amount of research and made what he calls “an informed decision” to add tabla to the track. The results are a marvelous 14:20 of music, and a brilliant introduction to a wonderful celebration of this masterful musician.

Centennial is a must for Gil Evans fans, without a doubt. And for those who will be attending the famous Newport Jazz Festival this year, The Gil Evans Project will be performing this music on the main stage Sunday, August 5, 2012.

About Greg Barbrick