Jazz: Miles ahead, years later

PORGY AND BESS

BARBICAN

LONDON

WHEN GIL Evans and Miles Davis set out to create an instrumental jazz version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, they were still aglow with the warm critical response to Miles Ahead, the orchestral suite with which they realised the promise inherent in their brief initial collaboration in the late Forties. In Gershwin's folk opera they found material destined to exalt composer, arranger and soloist alike.

In 1958 Davis was at his early peak, his playing marked by a beauty of tone and a perfection of line which brought him the affection of an audience far beyond the regular jazz constituency. His use of a flugelhorn in place of his usual trumpet for most of Porgy and Bess merely enhanced the almost unbearable loveliness of his sound, while Evans' orchestrations, which could be lean and unsentimental or warmly seductive, provided a matchless setting.

For many years, however, this was destined to be music with no life outside the recording studio. Only on a handful of occasions were Davis and Evans provided with sufficient funds to perform their collaborations in concert. By the time the value of their music became clear even to the most dim- witted promoter, both men had moved on, so the initiative shown by Scott Stroman and the jazz orchestra of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in searching out Evans' elusive manuscripts and preparing them for concert performances results in many kinds of stirred emotion.

If it is asking a great deal of student musicians to live up to such a legacy, then their pleasure in the privilege of inhabiting the structures of this music was easy to appreciate. But can its spirit be inhabited by any group of musicians not under the direct control of Gil Evans? This is the sort of question confronting all those who wish to make a living repertoire out of the music of the great jazz composers of the past.

So faithfully and sensitively did the orchestra perform the suite, all the way from the fevered fanfare of "Buzzard Song" to the jaunty farewell of "There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon For New York", that the highest possible compliment would be to say that there were moments when the music seemed to be playing itself, reanimated once more by Evans' unique spirit. All the trademarks of colour and texture were given full value: the weightless woodwind combinations, the calm French horns, the quick stabs of muted brass, the daring use of unison tuba and double bass as a combined lead voice.

And in the impossible role of Davis himself, the veteran American trumpeter Randy Brecker gave a skilled and generous interpretation - a little more prone to displays of virtuosity and self-conscious bluesiness than Davis himself, perhaps, but if this music were about exact imitation then it would have no value. A labour of love then, and received in kind.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week