Gil Evans: The Barbara Song


The Barbara Song


Gil Evans (piano, arranger)


The Individualism of Gil Evans (Verve 833 804-2)

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Gil Evans (piano, arranger), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Gary Peacock (bass), Elvin Jones (drums),

Frank Rehak (trombone), Ray Alonge, Julius Watkins (French horns), Bill Barber (tuba), Al Block (flute), Andy Fitzgerald (bass flute), George Marge (English horn), Bob Tricarico (bassoon), Bob Maxwell (harp)


Composed by Kurt Weill


Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, July 9, 1964


Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

As is the case with almost all of Gil Evans's most personal treatments of other people's works, calling this performance an "arrangement" doesn't begin to do it justice. Evans has transported this song from Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera into a sound world all his own. In doing so, Evans and Wayne Shorter establish new parameters for the jazz ballad arrangement and for the jazz solo within an arrangement.

The near-perfect integration of the various musical elements on this track is simply amazing. The tempo is the slowest of any jazz performance I know, and there are no tempo changes or double-timing. The instrumentation is unusual to say the least, but the orchestral colors and, more importantly, the rhythmic and melodic content of the writing are simultaneously abstract and crystal clear. Upon first hearing the funereal tempo and ominous orchestral colors, the listener may be tempted to file this track under the heading of "ECM trance-music" and move on, but close listening will reveal an ever-changing mosaic of sound.

Wayne Shorter's solo emerges out of the orchestral fabric so seamlessly and stays so closely connected to it that the conventional separation between solo and background is almost totally obliterated. Shorter accomplishes the incredible feat of delivering a thoroughly personal statement while remaining totally blended into his surroundings. The number of players who could have pulled this off, especially considering the tempo, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. A severely underrated aspect of this and many other Evans records is Gil's spare but intensely personal piano playing, which resembles a space-age take on Count Basie and Claude Thornhill.

Reviewer: Kenny Berger

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