Gil Evans and Ten

With all the momentous passings in music this past year—Prince, Bowie, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen—it has become harder to remember all those who have gone before. In my estimation one death the jazz universe has never quite gotten over is the passing of pianist/arranger/orchestrator Gil Evans.

On a fine new Analogue Productions 200gm stereo LP reissue of Gil Evans and Ten, (Prestige 7120) ($35), his first recording as a leader, the man's many strengths combined to create a tour de force. This is first time these recordings have been released in stereo on LP. For starters, there's the material, an impeccable selection of covers that opens with Irving Berlin's "Remember" and continues on Side A with Lead Belly's "Ella Speed" and finally "Big Stuff" from Leonard Bernstein's ballet, Fancy Free. The second side is equally distinguished, opening with Rodgers and Hart's "Nobody's Heart" and adding Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things," Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," before closing with Evan's own, "Jambangle."

Then there's the band, a supple mix of accomplished players, which in this case includes bassist Paul Chambers on bass, Steve Lacy on soprano sax, and Evans himself on piano. Drummer Jo Jones of Count Basie fame replaces Nick Stabulas on "Remember." And John Carisi replaces first trumpeter Louis Mucci on the same tune.

Most crucially there's Evans' revolutionary arrangements and orchestrations. If songwriting has become a lost art in this beat-centric world, then arranging and orchestrating are nearly forgotten languages. If it were not for Darcy James Argue and John Hollenbeck, leaders of modern big bands, they would have disappeared entirely. And if arrangers and orchestrators are the secret weapons of jazz, then Evans is the atomic bomb.

Criticized later in life for not asserting enough control over the ensembles he played and recorded with, Evans here uses precise, shifting brass sections that here include a bass trombone, bassoon, and French horn to make a moody tone poem of "Nobody's Heart." Equally skilled at arrangements and orchestrations that required brassy blowing as he was at quieter approaches, his arrangement for "Just One of Those Things" swings hard and includes punchy horns parts and a pair of Steve Lacy solos that tend towards long, sweeping phrases that stay close to the melody. The abrupt ending to the tune seems logical and is carried out in elegant fashion.

In "Ella Speed" the track that most clearly hints at the direction that Evans would later go in as an orchestrator, solos by Lacy, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, Chambers on bowed bass, and second trumpet Jake Koven with a mute, punctuate a swinging arrangement that also manages integrate some of the feel of bebop. Based on boogie-woogie, "Jambangle" has Evans displaying his keyboard prowess framed against inventive brass and woodwind orchestrations that expertly mix the textures of the various horns present—trumpets and bassoon—what a sound! The sonics of this pressing are warm and rich and absolutely breathtaking!

As is customary with Analogue Productions reissues, the mastering and cutting duties for this release were handled by Kevin Gray. The records were plated by Gary Salstrom and pressed at the Quality Record Pressings plant in Salina, KS. This is a deep groove pressing with a high-quality thick cardboard tip-on jacket from Stoughton Printing that adds a classy feel to this sparkling reissue that captures the work of a genius just then finding his signature sound.