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: 100/100 (learn more)

When I first heard this arrangement, I was immediately in love with it. I thought of it as a "Gil piece," not an arrangement of something. One day, it occurred to me to check out Kurt Weill's original version. And there it was, the whole long and developed melodic contour that I was familiar with. Gil had simply laid it out, but he did it in such a way that made it feel improvised and continually evolving. The character Gil created was so completely different than that of Weill's original song, that I would have never guessed Weill's song had this lyric: "No you don't just smile and pull your panties down when you have the chance of saying no." Through the melody, Gil heard profound depth, and spun his own universe out of it. If you don't know these pieces, I recommend first listening to Gil's and then purchasing the original from the original cast album on iTunes. You'll hear how Gil's lines are just Weill's original melody, but wrung out at a slow, searing tempo. But then there's so much more to it.

How does Gil manage simply to take such a melody and make it entirely his? Well, here it starts with the combination of brushes, harp and bass flute, followed soon thereafter by a double reed, creating a combination of colors that few others would have used. Then there's the atmospheric texture of the rolling bass flute, and Gil's signature feeling of time and no-time all at once. (Gil is adept at creating a feel of imprecision by using very precise notation–an effect that no one I know can match.)

Also note Gil's gestures on piano that are as personal as a fingerprint. You'll also hear that ever-present tuba. The muted horn stab at 1:32 could only be his. But my favorite part starts at 2:10. He does a run-up to a high sonority, a sonority that then slowly shifts and descends like a long, slow exhale. In this passage, you'll hear the melody on top, and inside, a wonderful, slow, descending mostly-chromatic line that, when it stops descending, continues to hold its final note for another 20 seconds until we reach another similar passage. The line writing as this passage descends is beyond spectacular. No one can make “slow” more compelling than Gil, and he does it all with lines. At 3:21 the melody is voiced in a stark way which has the odd interval of the minor-ninth, an interval that's also evident in much of Gil's piano accompaniment here. That dissonant minor-ninth is a “no-no” in many arranging classes, but Gil built a world on that interval.

When Gil introduces Wayne Shorter's tenor solo we're already over five minutes into the piece, and that in itself is unique in the world of jazz arranging. Wayne plays gracefully over the low pyramids, and gesturally behind a crying flute and bassoon as they sing in unison double-octaves. This man finds endless colors in infinite combinations. The whole piece just weeps with beauty. I give this 500 points out of 100. It breaks through the roof of any point rating, because this is music that goes way beyond music.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider

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