Gil Evans,
Out of the Cool
(1960; GRP, 1996)

One of the most important arrangers in the history of jazz, Gil Evans may be best known for his longtime collaboration with Miles Davis -- a match that resulted in such classic Davis records as Miles Ahead, Porgy & Bess and the spectacular Sketches of Spain. But as remarkable as these classic albums were, their importance shouldn't diminish Evans' own work.

After leading his own band throughout the 1930s in California, Evans gained recognition in the '40s for his unusual, forward-thinking arrangements for Claude Thornhill's orchestra. It was during this period that he met Davis, who admired his work with Thornhill, and contributed arrangements to Davis's "Birth of the Cool." By the late '50s, Evans and Davis were working on their classic trio of collaborative albums. And then Evans cut the best record he ever made as a bandleader, 1960's dazzling Out of the Cool.

The album finds Evans leading and arranging a 14-piece band, featuring ace players like trombonist Jimmy Knepper and the killer rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Elvin Jones. It also features Evans' typically futuristic scoring -- he had a Mingus-esque tendency to push unusual instruments like the tuba to the front of his arrangements. The orchestrations here are cerebral and complex, but never get in the way of the band's ability to swing.

The first track alone, Evans' "La Nevada," is worth the price of admission. It's got a quick, compelling groove that pulses along for two full minutes before the entire orchestra has joined in, and gradually snakes through Evans' entire palatte of instrumentation.

The solos here are all virtuosic -- especially those from trumpeter Johnny Coles and Evans himself, whose piano playing is spare and tasteful while remaining as unorthodox as his arrangements.

By the '70s, Evans would be trying to incorporate electronics into the orchestra with varying degrees of success -- following, in his own way, the muse that took his former partner, Davis, into the realm of electric fusion during the same era.

[ by Paddy O'Furniture ]
Rambles: 22 October 2002

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