Gil Evans: Stratusphunk
The Gil Evans Orchestra
Out of the Cool (Impulse IMPD-186)
Phil Sunkel (trumpet); Jimmy Knepper, Keg Johnson (trombones); Tony Studd (bass trombone); Bill Barber (tuba); Eddie Caine (flute, piccolo, alto saxophone) Budd Johnson (tenor saxophone); Bob Tricarico (bassoon, flute, piccolo).
Composed by George Russell..
Recorded: November 18, 1960
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
I remember when I first heard this album during college. It had a huge effect on me. I loved the angularity, the humor, the sheer craziness of it. For starters, it likely influenced my conception of what a great bass trombone should sound like. Listen to Tony Studd play the opening melody as he plays alone with only the drums playing brushes. Technically it's a blues, but it takes a while before you realize that. One already knows from the intro that this piece is going to go to some pretty far-reaching places when you hear that big, high brass pyramid right off the bat. And what a great sound from the slap-tongued statement of the melody at 0:37 (apparently something conceived at the recording session). The bass trombone continues for a little bit before making a perfect decrescendo that melds right into the walking bass as he passes the baton. I love that Gil staggered these entrances and exits. It makes it wonderfully organic. The pitches of the melody become clearer as a few horns enter with edgy "color." Tony Studd comes back, and the wildness ensues as the two tenor trombones play bizarrely and harmonically ungrounded notes in the middle range between the bass trombone and the melody. There's a lot of character here, but one becomes really confused as to where they are in terms of key, form or pretty much everything else. It's quirky fun, and one relishes being lost.
The sudden full-shout ensemble (1:53–2:06) starts to ground us harmonically, rhythmically and phrase-wise to a more conventional place, and releases us in a very contrasting, sudden and humorous way to a blues guitar solo by Ray Crawford. At 3:33, Gil enters on piano for the first time with his quirky and personal way of comping. He's the perfect pianist for his own music. The trombones now play a riff similar to what Gil just played, and he starts to answer them. The guitar is still going as layers are added. At 4:24, more instruments enter the ensemble, which starts to move into a wild direction harmonically. It almost sounds like we're going to head into a new solo, maybe even a new key, but then it becomes clear that Gil is just playing with us as he brings us back down again to the understated guitar solo. At 4:50, a similar ensemble passage comes in, but much bigger, more intense and dissonant, wonderfully sloppy, and with a low, especially sloppy blast on the end. Then we're off a cliff again to a trumpet solo by Johnny Coles. He's one of my favorite soloists used by Gil on his music. These contrasts are off-the-scale! Soon we shift to the entire ensemble playing the tune in a thick mess of almost indecipherable harmony while the bass trombone is back on the bottom walking with the bass! I love Gil's little tremolo behind it all. This is sumptuous, fun music.
Reviewer: Maria Schneider