Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project

A few years ago, Ryan Truesdell, a jazz composer and arranger, gained access to a treasure trove of Gil Evans' handwritten scores from the 1940s to the '80s—some of them recorded, many not—and set out to form a big band to play them. Lines of Color (Blue Note/Artists Share) is the second album to come out of what he calls the Gil Evans Project (the first, Centennial, was released in 2012), and it's something to savor.

These sorts of tribute bands are risky, especially with someone like Evans, who recruited some of the top sidemen of the day and who recorded for labels (Verve and Impulse!) and engineers (Rudy Van Gelder) renowned for their excellent sound.

But Truesdell (below) is a man of good fortune in this respect. For several years, he's been Maria Schneider's score copyist (a job that Schneider once held with Evans, so life comes full circle), and a co-producer on her last couple albums, so seven of her bandmates show up on this album too. And Truesdell himself proves to be a conductor of exquisite balance.

Steve Wilson, James Chirillo, and Jay Anderson may fall a bit short of Steve Lacy, Kenny Burrell, and Paul Chambers (though not by a lot), but they—and most of the other musicians in Truesdell's band—are arguably more proficient session players and sight-readers than the stars of yore (the latter is a key point, given Evans' complex harmonies and the fact that, unlike Ellington, he rarely had a working band in his heyday). To the extent I could compare these tracks to the original versions, Truesdell's hold up very well, in some cases float beyond.

That's another selling point for this album: five of its 11 charts were never recorded before, and a few others weren't recorded in their original versions. (Evans sometimes made changes to accommodate his roster at the time; using HD scans, Truesdell read and transcribed the erasures.) Some of the album's highlights, notably "Easy Living Medley," are heard here for the first time.

The tracks were plucked from six nights of live sets at the Jazz Standard in New York City. I was at one of those sets; none of the performances that night wound up on the album, but I know the sound of the Standard very well (it's one of the two or three finest-sounding jazz rooms in the city), and this disc—engineered by James Farber, Tyler McDarmid, and Geoff Countryman—captures the ambience. Every line is clear, the dynamics (loud and soft) ring out, and the colors are lush. The tonal balance is a bit bright, but only a bit, nothing glaring.