Claude Thornhill (featuring Gil Evans): The Troubador (based on "The Old Castle" from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition")


The Troubador (based on "The Old Castle" from Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition')


The Claude Thornhill Orchestra


The Real Birth of the Cool (Transcription Recordings) (The Jazz Factory (JFCD22803 ))

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Gil Evans (arranger), Claude Thornhill (piano),

Ed Zandy, Louis Mucci, Emil Terry (trumpets); Tak Tavorkian, Allen Langstaff (trombones); Walt Weschler, Sandy Siegelstein (French horns); Bill Barber (tuba); James Gemus, Victor Harris, Ed Stang (flute, piccolo); Danny Polo (alto saxophone, clarinet); Les Clarke (alto saxophone, flute); Mickey Folus (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Mario Rollo (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Billy Bushey (baritone saxophone bass clarinet,clarinet); Barry Galbraith (guitar); Joe Shulman (bass); Bill Exner (drums)


Composed by Mussorgsky-Evans


Recorded: New York, NY, June 18, 1947


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

I ask that you spend 99 cents and buy “Pictures at an Exhibition” (the orchestral version) orchestrated by Ravel, and get the part for "The Old Castle." That's what this is based on. You'll find the comparison to be very enlightening. People often assume that classical composers write more linearly than most jazz composers/orchestrators. Jazz tends to be chord conscious–many arrangers think vertically when they arrange. And when most people talk about Gil Evans music, they refer to the marvelous "voicings." I say phooey to that. The magic of Gil is so far beyond that. It's in the lines and layers, folks! There are so many layers displayed here it's just crazy.

The original begins with a bassoon line that is quite hypnotic and gives way to the melody. This bassoon line comes in again just briefly under the melody at the end of a phrase connecting us to the start of the melody again. In Gil's version, after an intro based on Promenade (the recurring main theme in between each part of “Pictures”...), he starts with a little rhythmic nudging figure in the low brass at 0:27. Then he adds the flutes in a repetitive cross-rhythmic staccato figure, creating another layer that will add to the overall feeling feeling of "play" in the otherwise staid 4/4 meter. Now enters Mussorgsky/Ravel's original bassoon line, but Gil orchestrated it as a low unison for two bass clarinets with French horn (0:37). Gil's differs in that he will greatly extend the line, weaving it into a counterline that endures and develops throughout much of the piece. All these layers are established before the melody even enters at 0:45 in a solo French horn. And they all work together without creating musical mud, because each idea or line is so firmly established in its own right that it's easy for the listener to hear clearly the full tapestry and delight in the exquisite layering and details. Listen to the beautiful woodwind line at 1:30. The high flute "swirls" (2:34) are both lovely and exotic. The way this large ensemble grows and grows, and then dramatically descends and dissipates (2:54–3:23) to tremolos (with harmonic twists and contortions unique to Gil) makes me leap up out of my chair! The colors (harmonic and timbral) are stunning. There's an interesting tuba line that creates a little shift in the overall harmony at 3:32. Listen to the subtle little shifts in harmony at 3:46–4:13 in the repeated brass riffs. 4:17–4:37 is so creative. Even though harmonically things get very tight, twisted and dark, still, all the original material is there, so it's a mud that you want to wallow in. The original doesn't grow and develop nearly to the degree that Gil's version does and there's far less counterpoint. Gil was a master of development and intricacy. I think Ravel would have flipped over this. Also, it's funny that the original uses alto sax for the melody, and Gil's arrangement, which might be considered jazz, doesn't use sax on that melody at all. Also, make note, there's no improvisation on this piece. It's just about Gil's spectacular writing. Everything Gil would develop in later years has its roots firmly planted in his Thornhill music. This is one beauty!

Reviewer: Maria Schneider

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