Gil Evans: Moon Taj
The Gil Evans Orchestra
Into the Hot (Impulse)
John Glasel, Joe Wilder (trumpets), Urbie Green, Bob Brookmeyer (trombones), Harvey Phillips (tuba), Phil Woods (alto sax), Gene Quill (clarinet, alto sax), Barry Galbraith (guitar), Art Davis (bass), Osie Johnson (drums).
Composed by John Carisi.
Recorded: New York, 1961
Rating: 96/100 (learn more)
John Carisi was one of the most highly respected composers in jazz, at least by those insiders who were aware of his work. A fascinating, multifaceted musician, Carisi studied under Stefan Wolpe, wrote commercial charts for numerous situations including Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, composed chamber music and modern dance scores, was conversant with Greek, Arabic, and Balkan music, and played trumpet in a style sort of like a slightly subdued Roy Eldridge.
Carisi's best known piece is of course "Israel" in the Birth of the Cool version that he later redid for Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. His tune "Springsville," arranged by Gil Evans, is the opening track on the classic album Miles Ahead. The rest of Carisi's work is difficult to find these days, with a chart or two turning up on relatively obscure albums by Urbie Green, Tony Scott and a few others. Seven octet tracks he recorded for RCA Victor in 1956 were not issued until 1988. The only complete album of his work that I know of is the long out-of-print 1968 Verve LP Machinations led by trumpeter Marvin Stamm.
As if these circumstances don't make it hard enough to find Carisi's work on records, the weirdly deceptive packaging of Into the Hot complicates matters further. Its nominal leader, Gil Evans, does not appear on this album as either arranger or player. The album cover and title lead a buyer to believe that it is a sequel to Evans's previous Impulse album, Out of the Cool. In this case, however, Evans functions solely as a sponsor for the work of two composers whose work he admired. The album comprises six excellent original works: three by Carisi and three by Cecil Taylor, with each composer leading his own ensemble—though Carisi's is a studio group rather than a working band.
As "Moon Taj" vividly demonstrates, Carisi wrote in a harmonic language all his own and was a brilliant orchestrator. "Moon Taj" opens with an exotic-sounding intro that presents a few melodic fragments that are developed throughout the piece, setting up a lyrical, wide-ranging trumpet melody, beautifully played by former Local 802 president John Glasel. A double-time section features an improvised solo by Eddie Costa, one of the era's most sadly neglected talents. Overall, the near perfect balance of unity and contrast in this piece marks it as a full-fledged jazz composition rather than a mere arrangement of a tune.
John Carisi was a jazz musician who was also a true composer, and the musical palette he had at his disposal was much wider and deeper than that of almost any other jazz writer, save perhaps Oliver Nelson and Clare Fischer. The closer you listen, the more you'll realize that Carisi created a personal world of sound unlike any other in jazz.
Reviewer: Kenny Berger