Gil Evans: Bird Feathers
Gil Evans (leader)
The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (Blue Note 58300)
Louis Mucci, Clyde Reasinger (trumpets), Joe Bennett, Tom Mitchell (trombones), Julius Watkins (French horn), Bill Barber (tuba), Phil Bodner (flute, bass clarinet), Chuck Wayne (guitar).
Composed by Charlie Parker; arranged by Gil Evans.
Recorded: New York, May 26, 1958
Rating: 94/100 (learn more)
Gil Evans has long had the well-earned reputation as jazz's supreme orchestral colorist. There was, however, a lot more happening in his music than innovative tone colors and impressionistic harmonies. Maybe there is some deeply encoded Kabalistic mystery in the name itself, but it seems as though Gil and Bill Evans share the unique distinction of their music being largely misunderstood by disciples and detractors alike in the same ways and for the same reasons. (This is starting to sound like it belongs in a separate blog, but please bear with me.)
Both Evanses are imitated or dismissed based on listeners' impressions of the surface elements of their music combined with widespread lack of insight into the total package. Regardless of Gil's brilliant orchestral colors or Bill's gorgeous harmonies, the reason they were both great jazz musicians is that they were masters of rhythm. The Evans/LaFaro/Motian trio's greatest innovations were in the areas of rhythmic freedom and interplay. Gil Evans's best-known recorded work involved providing frameworks for soloists, most notably Miles Davis, and the fact is that the hippest voicings and most distinctive tone colors are useless in supporting a jazz solo if the writing lacks rhythmic cohesion and fails to give the soloist some breathing room. Yet to this day many admirers of both men pay "tribute" by producing music that is all about surface beauty and negligent toward rhythmic concerns. (Ah, I feel much better now.)
Oh yeah! The track! "Bird Feathers" is a blues with harmonic substitutions similar to other Parker lines like "Sippin' at Bell's" or "Chi Chi". The arrangement has a feeling of loose spontaneity combined with a unified overall plan, which is an aspect of rhythm on a larger scale. It begins with the melody played with brushes on the snare drum, then by flute and muted trumpet in bare unison and then with a harmonic background. There are fine solos by Adderley, Rehak, Coles and Chambers, with backgrounds and ensemble interludes that sound like they were derived from Parker solos, giving the arrangement a great sense of overall cohesiveness. The trombone section deserves kudos for the fine execution of some tricky soli passages. Blakey's solo choruses are followed by some 4-bar exchanges with the full band. Cannon reenters over a beautifully scored ensemble passage, after which the opening choruses of the theme appear in reverse order, providing an overall arch-like form to the performance.
Reviewer: Kenny Berger