Monday, July 2, 2012

Ryan Truesdell Presents Centennial: Newly Discovered Works by Gil Evans – A Review

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“He was a mysterious man, as elusive and evanescent as his art. He could be maddeningly absent-minded; yet he could be closely attentive and solicitous, and you never quite knew how much Gil Evans was noticing about you. His childhood is an enigma, and there is even a question about his real name. Tall, lank, professional of mien, he was kind, self-critical, and self-doubting.”
- Gene Lees

“The mind reels at the intricacy of his orchestral and developmental techniques. His scores are so careful, so formally well-constructed, so mindful of tradition, that you feel the originals should be preserved under glass in a Florentine museum.”
- Bill Mathieu [arranger-composer]

“His name is famously an anagram of Svengali and Gil spent much of his career shaping the sounds and musical philosophies of younger musicians. … His peerless voicings are instantly recognizable.”
- Richard Cook

“I bought every one of Louis Armstrong’s records from 1927-1936. … In each of these three minute records, there’s a magic moment somewhere. Every one of them. I really learned how to handle a song from him. I learned how to love music from him. Because he loved music and he did everything with love and care. So he’s my main influence I think.”
- Gil Evans

As a teen-ager, Gil Evans listened to records at speeds slower than 78rpm’s to pick out sounds from the Louis Armstrong recordings that he treasured and then invented his own notation system to write arrangements before he had any sort of schooling in the art of orchestration.

This may account for the fact that Gil’s arrangements always seem to use unique combinations of instruments including tubas with flutes and rarely heard [in Jazz] reed instruments such as the oboe and English horn.

He was trying to replicate into music, sounds that he heard in his head and these odd or unusual instruments were the best source to emulate his impressions.

He didn’t know what he couldn’t do, because he had no formal training to tell him otherwise.
- the editorial staff of JazzProfiles

“We build our styles not on our abilities, but on our limitations.”
- Charles Aznavour

To offer a context in which to truly understand what Ryan Truesdell has accomplished with his recording of Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans [ArtistShare 0114], when Jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani died quite suddenly in January, 1999, Francis Marmande wrote in La Chambre d’Amour:

“If the death of a musician touches us in a special way, it is because they take their secrets with them – the secret of their unique musical sound, the secret of their precise relation to space, air and the movement of their bodies that they alone knew how to produce.”

So what do you do if your name is Ryan Truesdell, and as an ex-student of the late Gil Evans, you are faced with unlocking the secrets of a musician who died in 1988?

What happens when Gil’s family and estate grant you access to the his musical archives and you discover “… nearly fifty never-before heard manuscripts, which illuminate as-yet-unheard aspects of said master’s musical world?”

How do you unravel the unique essence of a lost artist who, like Michel, left such a huge footprint of the Jazz world?

What do you do to bring this music to life?

And when you do, how are you going to play it?

What tempos are you going to employ; what dynamic ranges are you going to use; what are you going to do with the uncompleted parts? These questions only hint at the magnitude of the challenge one faces in bringing the Gil Evans musical treasures that Ryan discovered into existence.

As Ryan’s colleague, composer-arranger Maria Schneider [who also studied with Gil] explains it: “It’s like finding the impossible: imagine you buy and old house and discover a box of lost Beethoven manuscripts in the attic – scores that have never been heard before. That’s exactly what happened here. It’s been something that I’ve wished for, for decades now – something that so many of us have wanted and it’s here. It’s an incredible opportunity to hear this music uncovered.”

The genius of what Ryan Truesdell has accomplished with Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans is twofold: [1] he’s not only brought the music to life in the ArtistShare CD, no small feat in and of itself, but he’s also documented in words and photographs what he and the musicians associated with this project did in the form of the two, brilliant insert booklets which accompany the CD.

The CD itself is comprised of ten tracks of previously unrecorded arrangements [including two original compositions by Gil] that Evans penned between 1946 and 1971.  See or for order information.

In a way it’s ironic that a man like Gil Evans, who shunned bringing direct attention on himself for most of his lifetime, has such adoring adulation shined upon him and his music with the issuance of this CD in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth.

In these introductory paragraphs from A Portrait of Centennial, the expository insert booklet which accompanies the disc, Ryan Truesdell offers these insights into his approach.

© -Ryan Truesdell, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Composition is an isolated art form, with countless hours spent alone at the piano in front of empty sheets of staff paper. Until instruments give breath to what's been written, the scrawls of a composer are little more than marks on a page. Much of the process takes place in the composer's mind; requiring an experienced ear, and a comprehensive understanding of the colors and capabilities of each individual instrument. Gil heard more than just the sound of a particular instrument, creating even more distinctive sonic and harmonic textures by writing for the unique sounds of specific musicians. In Gil's compositional mind, a soprano wasn't just a soprano, it became Steve Lacy; a trumpet became Miles Davis, or Johnny Coles.

The combination of these distinct voices breathe life into the music, creating the sounds, feel, and energy that we hear in each performance. Although Gil originally wrote these pieces with other musicians in mind, I chose each person on this record for what I felt their individual voice would bring to the music. If even one member of the ensemble were changed, the atmosphere might have yielded something entirely different. The confluence of this diverse group of musicians has resulted in the stunning performances represented on this record, honoring Gil Evans and his timeless legacy.

As you explore these new works, I encourage you to look through the photos taken during the recording sessions, in hopes that you'll be able to put a face and a name to the sounds that you are hearing. Then you'll begin to hear what I heard; that an alto saxophone became Steve Wilson or Dave Pietro, and a trumpet became Greg Gisbert. And in the moments when their voices become more than the sum of their parts, you'll hear the magic that can only be described as the unique voice of Gil Evans.”

Braithwaite and Katz are handling communications for Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans and Ann Braithwaite, Jon Muchin and the other members of the team there had this to say in their news release:

CENTENNIAL features an eclectic but cohesive collection that represents the best of Truesdell's historic discoveries. Of these ten works, half were originally written for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, including an Evans original composition, "Dancing on a Great Big Rainbow" and a striking arrangement of "The Maids of Cadiz" written in 1950, seven years prior to the version for Miles Davis on their landmark collaboration, Miles Ahead. "It's fascinating to compare the two versions," Truesdell says of Cadiz. "With the discovery of this arrangement for Thornhill, we can gain new insight into Gil's original approach to the tune, and how he adapted it for the version we all know with Miles."
Three of the new works, two of which were originally written for Astrud Gilberto and Lucy Reed, will feature vocalists. On CENTENNIAL, these arrangements are masterfully interpreted by the seasoned voices of Kate McGarry, Luciana Souza and newcomer Wendy Gilles, who glides effortlessly over Gil's intricate arrangement of "Beg Your Pardon" originally written for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in 1946.

Kurt Weill's "Barbara Song" and Evans' medley, "Waltz/Variation on the Misery/So Long" are arranged for a twenty-four piece orchestra which more closely resembles a wind ensemble than a modern day big band, and is augmented by oboes, bassoons, French horns, and percussion. While both pieces may ring a familiar bell to the veteran Evans listener, these arrangements illuminate a key element in Evans' compositional process, and present each tune in a whole new light. "It was evident from sifting through Gil's manuscripts, that he was constantly revising and revamping old arrangements," Truesdell remarks. "With these two large ensemble arrangements, Gil has greatly expanded upon what we know from the previous recordings, and further developed these pieces in terms of form, harmony, and rhythm. The sonic palette offered by this large instrumentation was like nothing Gil had available to him before. I felt these tunes were essential to presenting this newly discovered world of Gil's." Soloists Steve Wilson and Donny McCaslin on saxophone, vibraphonist Joe Locke, and trombonist Marshall Gilkes, add their distinct creative voices to this new sonic world, exploring the endless possibilities revealed in these arrangements.

One of the most exceptional pieces on the record is "Punjab," another Evans' original composition, written for his 1964 album The Individualism of Gil Evans. The process of bringing this particular work from the page to the studio provides an excellent example of the research required to assemble this groundbreaking album. The score was incomplete, with no indication of tempo, and very little notation for the rhythm section. "I knew Gil had recorded sketches and an initial reading of "Punjab" during the Individualism sessions," recalls Truesdell. "Gil had no intention of these performances being commercially released, but I knew they were my only chance to figure out what Gil had intended for the rhythm section." Assistance from Universal Music made it possible for Truesdell to hear the rehearsal tapes, enabling him to interpret Evans' intentions, and make the informed decision to add tabla to the track. "There was something about the drums in the rehearsal that didn't seem to support what Gil had written," said Truesdell. "I knew "Punjab" had its roots in Indian music, so I decided to add tabla player Dan Weiss to the ensemble and see what happened. I'm glad I trusted my instincts, because the effect was almost transcendent. It was a moment of recognition between the musicians and I, confirming what we had felt all along; that we were all a part of something truly profound."

With CENTENNIAL, his first CD as a leader, Truesdell has taken on a daunting task, relying heavily upon his encyclopedic knowledge and love of Evans' music, his discerning ear, and decisive leadership in the studio to breathe new life into a collection of Evans' works that might otherwise have remained forgotten. This achievement, to say nothing of the remarkable number of first-call musicians more than willing to follow his baton, solidifies Truesdell as an emerging producer and bandleader to watch out for.

Upcoming Gil Evans project performances:

Saturday, July 7 through Thursday, July 12, 2012
SIX-CONCERT RESIDENCY            Umbria Jazz Festival, Perugia, Italy
Featuring Ryan Truesdell with the Eastman School of Music Chamber Jazz Ensemble and special guests, saxophonists Francesco Cafiso, Stefano di Battista, and Scott Robinson, and trumpeters Frabrizio Bosso and Paolo Fresu.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
GIL EVANS PROJECT DEBUT         Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, Rl
Presenting all new music from CENTENNIAL on the festival main stage.

It’s been said that our immortality lives on in the minds of others.

100 years after his birth, the musical mind of Gil Evans lives on thanks to the mortality of Ryan Truesdell.

Jazz fans, new and old, owe him a debt of gratitude as it’s not often that something this special comes along.