Gil Evans: Up From the Skies

The collaboration that tragically never materialized between master arranger Gil Evans and guitar hero Jimi Hendrix nonetheless produced some pretty significant developments. In 1974, Evans recorded and released The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix, and in so doing (at least in part) legitimized the adoption of the rock tune as the new jazz standard. While many laud Brad Mehldau or BeatleJazz for repeatedly dipping into the rock canon, the man behind the curtain here, as for so many other important developments in jazz history, turns out to be Mr. Evans.

"Up From the Skies" is one of the few Hendrix tunes that Evans continued to play after his 1974 tribute record. Gil's impeccable arrangement simultaneously (1) allows the listener to forget this ever was a rock tune and (2) nods to Hendrix's harmonic conception many of the hip harmonies that Evans has accentuated were ripe for the picking straight from the original version. This astounding group from 1980, featuring Faddis, Lewis, Blythe, Bluiett, Kikuchi and Cobham, makes this the foremost version of an important jazz-rock development.

October 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Gil Evans with RMS: Little Wing

After gaining recognition with bandleader Claude Thornhill, arranger Gil Evans worked with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and other jazz icons. His orchestral prowess and open-mindedness made him a prime mover in "the birth of the cool." Evans's career didn't begin or end with those associations or that genre, however. He also made important contributions to the modern and jazz-rock idioms. In 1983 he was invited by the fusion trio RMS to perform with them at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Years earlier, Evans had scheduled a meeting with Jimi Hendrix to discuss the possibility of the guitarist fronting a big band that would play Gil's arrangements of Jimi's compositions. Hendrix died before that meeting could take place, but Evans never let go of the idea. From then on, he played at least one Hendrix tune in most of his performances.

"Little Wing" is a blues ballad arrangement of Hendrix's classic. Gone are the guitar power chords that Hendrix, and everyone else, used to introduce the piece. Instead, Evans plays a mellow electric piano as drummer Phillips adds some flourishes. Russell's whining guitar and Isham's echo-plexed (or some such effected) trumpet play the beautiful melody. The tune is stretched out into full-blown blues mode for an extended and impressive Russell solo. The arrangement allows Foster's bass to expound as well. The horns dominate a dramatic coda to bring this satisfying performance to an end.

How that big band with Hendrix would have sounded, we will never know. But this music gives us a pretty damned good idea! (Although I do think Jimi would have asked to keep those opening power chords in. :-)

May 11, 2008 · 1 comment


Previous Page | Next Page