Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gil Evans: The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions

The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions is a 2006 CD reissue of two Gil Evans albums on one disc:  New Bottle Old Wine from 1958 and Great Jazz Standards from 1959.  The skinny is that they were his second and third records as a leader, a capacity he'd been able to assume due to the prominence he'd achieved through his collaborations with Miles Davis, beginning in earnest in 1957.

New Bottle Old Wine fairly closely follows the model of Evans's first album with Davis.  This record,
too, is essentially built around one soloist, in this case Cannonball Adderley.  It's Adderley's instrumental voice that dominates the recordings, Adderley's improvisational sensibilities that provide the heart.  It's a fine record, though, don't get me wrong;  Evans's style as an arranger is fully realized at this point, and he's doing fine things with these tunes.  They're carefully chosen to guide the listener through the history of jazz from W.C. Handy and Jelly Roll Morton up to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and as arranged by Evans it all sounds of a piece, utterly modern, and even highbrow.  This is dry-martini music.

Great Jazz Standards opens things up a bit.  Solo duties are spread around among a number of players, notably Steve Lacy, Johnny Coles, and Budd Johnson, on a number of instruments, and Gil's own piano plays a small but key role on a few tracks.  And, it could  
just be me, but the result (and this is strange to say, when Cannonball leaves such a mark on the first record) on the second result is more emotional, more moving.  My favorite track so far is the second record's opener, the Bix Beiderbecke number "Davenport Blues."

Shadows of Treme, sure.  And at this point any trumpeter waking up in Gil Evans's bed is going to be suspected of Miles Davis, but Coles makes his own case pretty quick, achieving a singing, broad, magnanimous tone that Miles just didn't use.  But it's Gil we're here to hear, right?  And he delivers, with a setting that alternates between moaning very reminiscent of '20s hot jazz sonorities and the muted-horn, odd-woodwind murmuring you expect from him.  And it all adds up to a deeply moving, authentically felt blues.  This is the olive in your martini.

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