Saturday, August 26, 2023

Gil Evans Orch, Kenny Burrell & Phil Woods - "Previously Unreleased Recordings" (1974)

The January 1974 release of this record greatly upset Gil Evans. He considered these outtakes from The Individualism of Gil Evans as unfinished, inferior or unacceptable to the work that was issued in 1964.

This disc was one of Verve’s “Previously Unreleased Recordings,” a series that rescued six otherwise unissued treasures buried in the Verve vaults by Stan Getz and Bill Evans, Johnny Hodges with Lalo Schifrin, Clark Terry with Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Witherspoon with Ben Webster and Sonny Stitt. The majority of these were originally produced by Creed Taylor, who, in 1974, was basking in the success of his own CTI Records productions. Taylor was likely unhappy about these releases as well.

The Evans set contained five previously unissued tracks Evans waxed over three 1964 recording sessions: March 4 (“Blues and Orbit,” “Isabel”), May 25 (“Concorde,” “Spoonful”) and July 9 (“Barracuda” – the same session that yielded the previously-released “The Barbara Song”).

Perhaps what galled Evans even more is the shoddy way the music was treated here. The titles “Blues in Orbit” and “Isabel” (also listed on a British compilation as “The Underdog”) are both incorrectly titled and credited. “Blues in Orbit,” a song properly credited to George Russell, is actually Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl” while “Isabel” is Al Cohn’s “Ah, Moore.”

It’s difficult to say how these songs ended up with these titles. But they were likely listed as such on the original 1964 recording logs. But since the recordings weren’t released at the time, nobody bothered to correct the sheets. Whoever was in charge of putting these recordings out in 1974 just didn’t know enough to correct the titles – or ask someone who might have known, like, say, Mr. Evans.

Both these tunes are from a quartet session that featured Evans on piano, Tony Studd on bass-trombone, Paul Chambers on bass and Clifford Jarvis on drums. Neither is particularly bad nor shames anyone in any way. Each spotlights Studd (sounding very much like Bob Brookmeyer here) and, unusually, Evans on piano – very nicely.

But there is a jam session quality to these two pieces, as though the players were just warming up or winding down from the real work at hand. Neither piece would have fit comfortably in or on the large-group soundscapes of The Individualism of Gil Evans. Both producer Creed Taylor and the record’s leader would have understood this and objected to the release of these tracks – in 1964 and 1974.

John Lewis’s ”Concorde” and Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” (on the record label as “Spoonfull”) come from a session that also included a piece titled “Punjab,” a track that was never finished to Evans’s satisfaction – and, remarkably, has never been issued (although bandleader Ryan Truesdell recorded Evans’s arrangement of “Punjab” for the 2012 disc Centennial).

While “Spoonful” might have come as a surprise to listeners in 1964 – maybe even 1974, too – one listen reveals just how flawlessly Evans can bring any good tune into his own musical universe (something which failed him somewhat on Gil Evans Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix, also released in 1974). Evans’s horn voicings here are ethereal.

As it turns out, it would be another 14 years before anyone would know how savagely “Spoonful” was edited here. The nearly 14-minute piece lost about four and a half minutes of playing time for this release, sacrificing Thad Jones’s terrific solo, a piano interlude and a good bit of that sensuous Evans orchestration. Other soloists heard here are Kenny Burrell, Phil Woods and, intermittently, Evans himself.

Rounding out the record is “Barracuda,” perhaps this disc’s most notable piece. If this was left off The Individualism for time considerations, it suggests that either Evans or Taylor were hoping for a follow-up. It’s just too good to sit in a vault somewhere.

“Barracuda” – credited here solely to Evans – is an extended version of one of the cues Gil Evans and Miles Davis crafted for Peter Barnes’s 1963 play Time of the Barracudas. Davis and Evans wrote and recorded a series of twenty-some cues, including this one and “Hotel Me,” in October 1963 that amounted to about 12 minutes of music. A tape recording of the score was meant to accompany the play’s performances, but it’s uncertain whether that ever happened.

The Miles Davis recording of the suite wouldn’t see the light of day until the 1996 box set Miles Davis & Gil Evans – The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings and, then, as a bonus track to the 1997 CD issue of Quiet Nights.

Here, Evans elongates the theme as a feature for Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Kenny Burrell on guitar and, notably, Elvin Jones on drums (props to Gary Peacock for his work on bass here, too). This must have been a revelation in 1974. It certainly was for this listener in 1988.

Wayne Shorter, who was present on the Miles Davis recording of the tune, also recorded the song in 1965 as “Barracudas” (credited there solely to Evans). But even that recording wasn’t issued until years later on the Japanese album The Collector (1979) and, in America, on the Etcetera LP in 1980 and on CD (with a different cover) in 1995.

Evans himself later recorded the song as “General Assembly” on his 1970 album Gil Evans (a.k.a. Blues in Orbit) and when “Barracuda” appeared on the 1988 CD release of The Individualism of Gil Evans, it was nicely placed at the beginning of the disc and was listed as “Time of the Barracudas.” In both cases, the song was properly credited to both Gil Evans and Miles Davis.

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