Gil Evans ‘Svengali’ 5/5

Atlantic Japanese edition re-issue series.

By the mid-1970s pianist, composer and leader Gil Evans was already exploring new combinations of sounds and this fine album captures him at his very best with an outstanding line-up of musicians including Bill Harper on tenor, David Sanborn on alto and Howard Johnson on tuba. All but one of the pieces are originals, but the one exception is a gorgeous rendition of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ that both harks back to Evans’ magical collaboration with Miles Davis while at the same time moving forward with an electric guitar solo by Ted Dunbar. The evergreen tune is reworked with a deftness of touch that few are capable of and the rapport between guitar and orchestra is a joy to behold. Two Billy Harper compositions impress and are a precursor to the musician’s own work as a leader for Strata East. A very modern sounding ‘Thoroughbred’ features synthesizers and is a meeting of old and new elements in jazz and has become something of a template for present day big band arrangements while the longest track on the album, ‘Cry of Hunger’, begins in manic fashion, but then swiftly gives way to a more sedate tenor-led number. Evans revisits ‘Eleven’ which he co-wrote with Davis as an extremely brief reprise while the evocative ‘Zee Zee’ has all the feel of a dark, windy night and conjures up a truly spooky ambience. Tim Stenhouse