Coming mere months after Gil Evans’s death at age 75, this first-ever appearance of The Individualism of Gil Evans on CD seemed then like some sort of solace: a measure of the man’s craft and evidence of his singular genius. Surely one of Evans’s finest musical documents, this iteration of The Individualism remains, perhaps, the most complete and satisfying version of the disc that could be.
It’s also exactly what Evans himself wanted. The producers – who include the reliably thorough, careful and artful Michael Cuscuna and Richard Seidel with the assistance of venerable researcher Phil Schaap – worked closely with Evans himself in crafting the final presentation.
The CD doubles the LP’s original playing time by adding to the album’s original five titles (tracks 2 to 5), three titles appearing on the 1974 album (tracks 1, 8 and 9 – the newly presented unedited 13-and-a-half-minute version of “Spoonful”) and two previously unissued titles.
According to Cuscuna’s liner notes (which accompany Gene Lees’s original notes with Evans’s commentary), Evans was energized by hearing this recording of “Spoonful.” “Upon hearing the full version for approval of this CD,” writes Cuscuna, “Gil fell in love with the arrangement and the performance. He has resolved to bring it into the book of his current performance.”
As no official recording has documented such evidence, you have to wonder whether this ever happened.
In a bit of perfect programming, the CD opens not with “The Barbara Song,” as on the original LP, but with “Time of the Barracudas,” which was known on the 1974 album as “Barracuda.” This Evans original perfectly sets the stage for what else is to come. It’s mind-boggling that this treasure wasn’t issued at the time.
Perhaps another Evans album on Verve was in the works. That would explain the appearance here of the two previously unreleased titles, “Proclamation” and “Nothing Like You.” Both were recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio on October 29, 1964, a full month after the original release of The Individualization of Gil Evans.
”Proclamation” is an impressionistic string of arpeggios that gets equally dreamy solos by Wayne Shorter, (possibly and briefly) Johnny Coles and Evans’s spiky piano motifs. Like “Time of the Barracudas” – known then as “General Assembly” – Evans would revisit “Proclamation” on his eponymous 1969 recording, later known as Blues in Orbit. There, it is briefer and much more dramatic: more nightmare than this disc’s dream scenario.
Bob Dorough’s “Nothing Like You” had been arranged by Evans in 1962 for Miles Davis (although the song was recorded during the Quiet Nights sessions, it wasn’t issued until 1967, where it was tacked on to the end of Davis’s otherwise quintet recording of Sorcerer). Here, the song is helmed by Wayne Shorter, who was also present on the Davis recording – a full two years before he joined the trumpeter’s now-famed second quintet.
This iteration of “Nothing Like You” removes Willie Bobo’s percussion in favor of (probably) Elvin Jones’s more aggressive drum work and adds (likely Kenny Burrell’s) guitar, flute and tuba to the soundscape. It also reminds listeners that Miles was merely part of the section on the original, not the soloist: surely a tribute to the gorgeous charts that Evans provided to him.
After this October 1964 session, Evans would work on several Verve sessions for Kenny Burrell and Astrud Gilberto. But the man largely vanished from the music scene after that. There was no full-fledged sequel to The Individualization of Gil Evans. By early 1967, producer Creed Taylor would leave Verve. He and Evans would never work together again.
Evans would reunite with Miles Davis in early 1968 for several takes of “Falling Water” and did not return on record under his own name until 1969 – and, oddly, on the then new and fledgling Ampex label.
Whether its title is complimentary or critical (or, knowing Creed Taylor, a bit of both), The Individualism of Gil Evans is an individual achievement and, in this presentation, among Gil Evans’s best work of the sixties, if not among the best work under his own name in his entire career.