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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke

Gil Evans Orchestra

75th Birthday Concert

Live at the Hammersmith Odeon London 1987

BBC Jazz Legends BBCJ 7007-2


Crotchet midprice 


Disk One

  1. Boogie Stop Shuffle
  2. Orange was the colour of her dress then Blue Silk
  3. Bird Feathers
  4. Up from the Skies
  5. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
  6. Eleven
  7. Happy Birthday

Disk Two

  1. Stone Free
  2. Solo
  3. Stone Free
  4. Sometimes
  5. Murder by Numbers
  6. Synchronicity
  7. Eleven
  8. Gil Evans interview with Charles Fox

Gil Evans was a musician who had no classical music background, but learned his craft as pianist and arranger for the Claude Thornhill Band in the 1930’s. Claude however did not appreciate the be-bop influence that Evans had absorbed and they parted company. Gil took the opportunity this break gave him, to study the approach to composition of Debussy and Ravel. He is however best known for his collaboration with Miles Davies on the very influential ‘Porgy and Bess’ and ‘Sketches on Spain’ albums, recorded in the late 1950’s and still in the catalogues today.

Gil Evans work could never be classed as ‘easy listening’, if your taste is for ‘swing’ era Big bands; this is not for you. This is demanding music both for the musician and the listener, you can’t listen to this whilst you read the paper and I don’t recommend as background music when your Grandma comes to tea! It is however well worth the concentration it requires to listen, the music contains elements of every other kind of music known to man, it has simply hundreds of tone qualities and draws its influence from music as diverse as that of Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus. The volume level also varies from a whisper to a loud cacophony, where everyone seems to be improvising at once!

Gil Evans was a unique figure in jazz, a very quiet man who showed a great deal of warmth to his musicians, as they did to him. What to me is astounding, was that whilst the Orchestras he used on his various tours had some regular ‘sidemen’, he also included some local musicians and it still worked! Don Weller on Tenor and John Surman feature here, both are very well established on the UK scene. Though most of us would associate Don Weller with a more ‘straight ahead’ style, he seems to flourish in this company. Why there are two versions of Stone free is not clear to me.

To be honest, I find it hard to be objective about Gil Evans music, it contains a lot that I like very much and quite a lot that I really don’t like at all. What I certainly don’t understand, is that the more I listen to it, the amount I like increases, but I’m still left with parts that I feel come close to anti-music. What I am sure of, is that everyone who is seriously interested in jazz, should listen carefully to a Gill Evans Album to experience the full range of emotions that the large jazz ensemble can display. It won’t happen for most people with one hearing, but it is worth investing some time to find out about it. The audience at this concert certainly enjoyed it, judging by the applause.

I don’t know how to come to a conclusion about this work, as I don’t know what to judge it against! If you are a serious listener to jazz however, you should buy it!

Don Mather

Don Mather is a Saxophone Player and Bandleader based in Coventry




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