Jazz: Miles ahead, years later
Wednesday 09 December 1998
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
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 10 ways we damage our teeth – without realising
- 2 Fifa corruption arrests: Nike reported to be 'multinational sportswear company' at centre of bribery claims over Brazil shirt deal
- 3 Facebook Messenger sends 'creepily' precise location data, as revealed by Marauders Map Chrome extension
- 4 Bahar Mustafa: Goldsmiths Students' Union diversity officer to keep her job after vote of no confidence petition fails
- 5 Photo of wedding guest proposing to girlfriend in front of bride and groom goes viral
Grace of Monaco film panned: Screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman as movie gets US debut
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
ASAP Rocky gives nauseating response to explicit Rita Ora rap: 'I'm not saying she's a terrible person'
San Andreas 3D, film review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's disaster movie has clear fault lines
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote