I love the music of Gil Evans. It is a touchstone, it typifies how modern big band jazz can sound, full of texture and dynamics. I come back to it again and again.
Aside from his work with Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Miles Ahead – I didn’t know his music until after his death; I didn’t see the US-UK big band he lead that played in London in 1987. The only times I have heard his music played live have been when others have included his repertoire. Bands such as SNJO, Mike Gibbs big band and, recognising his father’s centenary a few years ago, a band put together by Miles Evans that played the Vortex. It is always a joy.
In Paris for a couple of days, I noticed that Laurent Cugny was directing an evening of Evans’ music. Cugny put together a European band that Evans toured with in the late 1980s. They recorded two albums, Golden Hair and Rhythm A Ning, the last big band music Evans recorded before his death in 1988.
Clearly, this was a gig I needed to go to. I ventured out to the Paris suburb of Jourdain, and found the club – Studio Ermitage, which I hadn’t heard of before. It turned out this was, I think, the first night of Cugny’s new Gil Evans project. It was wonderful, capturing the essence of Evans’ work – the dynamics, the energy even in the quietest pieces, the texture.
It was a young band, and they seemed completely at ease with the music. They were very tight. Cugny directed from the piano; he didn’t seem to play much – just two solos, I think – mostly he just added a touch more texture, small piano-figures at key moments to keep the momentum going, much as Evans did.
And they had a great deal of momentum. Whilst there were lots of quiet sections, handled with subtlety, when they got up a head of steam, they seemed unstoppable.
They played two sets full of Evans’ material with a couple of originals. The Evans’ arrangements included Time of the Barracudas, King Porter Stomp, Orange Was The Colour of Her Dress Then Blue Silk, Spoonful, Bud and Bird (a transcription of a Bud Powell solo combined with Charlie Parker’s Bird Feathers) and George Russell’s
Blues in Orbit.
They finished the second set with another Mingus piece, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Possibly my favourite arrangement of my favourite tune. It was glorious.