The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix
Audio CD | Extra Tracks, Reissued, Import
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Digitally remastered edition of this 1974 album. Gil Evans was to have recorded with Jimi Hendrix. The idea was to feature the Hendrix solo guitar and voice against the cushion of Evans' orchestrations, much in the manner of the Gil Evans-Miles Davis collaborations of the late 1940's and again in the 1950's. Denied the opportunity when the guitarist died in London a week before the preliminary meetings were set, Gil forged ahead with a whole concert of Hendrix compositions at Carnegie Hall, and, with the same young group, the sessions for this album. Evans told Rolling Stone magazine: "Stop and think about Hendrix' guitar work, about how difficult it was, and is, to play a guitar that way - the use, the correct use, of electronics. And yet for him it was the natural way. What I do is try to keep Jimi in mind when arranging his music. A very, very great guitar player." Gil Evans and Jimi Hendrix - a fusion of rock and jazz, working properly for once, each style drawing from the other. Gil was fond of saying that he looked for the "living spirit" in any music he heard. That spirit is here, alive and well, within these tracks.
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Top Customer Reviews
Hendrix wanted to record an album with Evans and Evans wanted to as well. They were scheduled to meet in 1970 but it never happened: Hendrix was dead before the meeting date. Evans continued anyway, crafting arrangements of Hendrix’s songs that would have provided backing for him if he had lived. There’s a discussion still going on over whether Hendrix would have been happy with the results of Evans’s efforts but that’s just Air Talk, not the real stuff. Hendrix asked for it, Evans did it, and what’s left is an opportunity that alas, never was realized. From the evidence of this recording, though, it would have been an interesting joining because Evans and Hendrix were men of immense talents but very different sensibilities.
Evans was a great arranger and this band, nineteen members strong, was a great band. Like most of Evans’s earlier ensembles, it was loaded with talent –trombonist Tom Malone, guitarists John Abercrombie and Ryo Kawasaki, David Horowitz on synthesizer for one cut, saxophonists David Sanborn and Billy Harper, Hannibal on trumpet and vocals, Howard Johnson on tuba. The ensemble sound is more electric than on previous Evans outings, and the rhythm heavier, but as with his earlier ensembles, Evans loaded the sound at top and bottom –two French horns soar above the rest of the horns; tuba, keyboards, two guitars, both a bass and an electric bass in tandem, and three percussionists at the bottom. This was Evans’s second last to be recorded in the studio in the States. After that, his state-side albums were all recorded live, featuring his Monday Night Orchestra. (He did record a studio album in Italy in 1978 but t was an eight-piece ensemble: Steve Lacy and “Black Arthur” Blythe were on sax and. two tunes by Hendrix were included, “Up From the Skies” and “Stone Free.” I’d love to hear that, especially with Blythe and Lacy on board!)
I remember the excitement before this album came out and I remember, too, that I felt mildly let down when I actually first heard it. I think I wanted something sharper, harsher, or if not that, something that harked back more directly to the gorgeous port wine cushions of sound I associated with Evans’s work with Miles Davis. Time has tempered my reservations about the album but I still think it is an album of mixed quality, where Out of the Cool and Gil Evans + Ten are close to perfect, as of course are the first three albums backing Miles. Listening closely to it again, 42 years after the fact, it excites me much more than I thought it would. Having written that, I still think it is flawed. One reason may be pointed to in the liner notes: Evans actually only wrote the arrangements for two pieces on this album, “Up From the Stars” and “Castles Made of Sand”. Other members of his orchestra wrote the others but the liner notes don’t specify who. All of the songs have a signature ensemble sound: the top-bottom ensemble spread, interesting little second lines jiggling in and out and above and about the melody, especially on out cuts, where Evans favored stretching things out and experimenting with single horn riffs (the best example is the ending of “La Nevada” on Out of the Cool). David Sanborn has what may be his best solo ever on the opening “Angel” and Harper on tenor sax, Scofield and Kawasawa on electric guitar are wonderful, but for the rest, the soloists are good but not as good as their predecessors in earlier incarnations of the Evans Orchestra –Tom Malone isn’t the equal of Jimmys Cleveland and Knepper, Hannibal nowhere near as effective as Johnny Coles (and Hannibal’s singing sucks), Howard Johnson’s tuba on “Voodoo Child’ falls flat.
What I appreciate now more than I did then is how Evans was working toward a new way of voicing his ensemble. (Listen also to Svengali.). Evans was a genius. This wasn't one of his genius albums but it still comes close and for that reason alone, it ‘s worth getting.
I have fond memories of the summer of 1969. I had just finished my orals and between May and the end of August, Esther and I went to hear Mstislav Rostropovich, then Vladimir Horowitz, then (me alone –I ushered for it) Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, then Hendrix (Cat Stephens performed as warm-up), and then that October in Paris, we saw Arthur Rubenstein, one night of several as he played the entire Chopin solo piano repertoire. The point is: I truly dig jazz, which is my ur-music, but I have long loved acid rock too and other musics as well. Music is a spacious house, with room for many kinds of experience. But not all musics blend equally well, and in this one case, Evans and Hendrix, the meld was fruitful but less than complete.)
Evans is most well known for his atmospheric work with Davis on albums like Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain, and he takes that pastel-like atmospheric approach on some of the spacier tracks here, like the dreamy versions of "Little Wing" and "1983 A Merman I Should Be." Tracks like these counterbalance the blasting funk of "Voodoo Chile" creating a well balanced investigation of the Henrix songbook. This fine album would make an excellent starting point for rock fans who are curious about jazz but unsure where to start listening. The compositions are familiar from years of rock radio overplay, but the arrangements and interpretations are fresh and interesting.