Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Bess, Oh, Where Is My Bess?


Bess, Oh Where's My Bess


Miles Davis (flugelhorn) and Gil Evans (arranger)


Porgy and Bess (Columbia/Legacy 712764)

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Miles Davis (flugelhorn), Gil Evans (arranger), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Johnny Coles (trumpet), Bernie Glow (trumpet), Louis Mucci (trumpet), Ernie Royal (trumpet), Joe Bennett (trombone), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Frank Rehak (trombone), Dick Hixson (bass trombone), Willie Ruff (French horn), Gunther Schuller (French horn), Julius Watkins (French horn), Bill Barber (tuba), Jerome Richardson (flute), Romeo Penque (flute), Danny Bank (bass clarinet), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax).

Composed by George Gershwin.


Recorded: Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC, August 4, 1958


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

How does one pick a favorite piece from Gil's and Miles' Porgy and Bess album? Tough to do. I've chosen this piece because it so perfectly illustrates another unique aspect of Gil's writing. Sometimes when I listen to Gil, I get a spontaneous visualization of the inside of a watch: the perfection, the detail, all the little parts at work; nothing is there that doesn't contribute to the flow of movement and the perfect passing of time. Every gear attaches and locks another into motion. If you listen to this piece, you can envision a serpentine line being passed from instrument to instrument, color to color, whether it's behind Miles or in front when he's not playing. It's like a thread that never gets dropped. Let's start at the top with the French horns and alto flutes that are playing a flowing passage together. Then the horns hold while the flutes go on their own, giving way to the trombones, who take over, then the flutes pick up a line above them, and then soft brass (the trumpets are in hat mutes with French horns voiced with them). You can continue on through the piece and follow the slow-moving gears as lines pass around the orchestra. This piece also goes into a little swing section where the trombones take on Gil's signature comping role that the piano might have taken if there was piano on the record. That's a unique aspect to these Gil/Miles recordings. There's an absence of piano. It leaves all the harmonic background to the creative hand of Gil.

One further detail. Because these pieces are a suite, their connectivity is really important. Take note how the end of this arrangement suddenly introduces a very stark, open, spare sound. It contrasts all the lushness we've been hearing. That spare sound is achieved by utilizing open-fifth intervals in the ensemble. It also happens to be the same opening interval of the next movement, “Prayer.” So this ending is really more of a "transition" to “Prayer.” Much of the elegance of these collaborative recordings is how each subsequent piece begins with a feeling of inevitable arrival. Gil leaves no stone unturned.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider

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