Gil Evans - piano; David Horowitz - Moog synthesizer; Ted Dunbar - guitar; Richard Williams - trumpet; Marvin "Hannibal" Peterson -- trumpet; Sharon Freeman - French horn; Peter Levin - French horn; David Sanborn - alto sax, flute; Billy Harper - tenor sax; Trevor Koehler - baritone sax, soprano sax, flute; Joe Daley - trombone, tuba; Howard Johnson - baritone sax, tuba, flugelhorn; Susan Evans - percussion; Herb Bushler - electric bass; Bruce Ditmas - drums
This powerful set of stunning music by the Gil Evans Orchestra, performed at prestigious Philharmonic Hall as part of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival in New York, was captured exactly one month after the band had recorded at historic Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan on May 30 for what would become the live 1973 Atlantic album, Svengali (the title is an anagram constructed on the letters of Gil Evans' name). While there is some similarity between the tracks on Svengali and this set list of previously unheard tracks (the obvious overlap is this take of Evan's lyrical and mysterious "Zee Zee," which actually appeared as the final track of Svengali, both sources beautifully showcase Evans' masterful arranger's touch in balancing composition and sections of free improvisation. And with a lineup boasting such potent soloists as tenor titan Billy Harper, guitarist Ted Dunbar, baritone sax burner Trevor Koehler and an up-and-coming alto saxophonist named David Sanborn,, it was a certainty that sparks would fly in the improv sections during the course of this June 20th set.
The concert kicks off in dynamic fashion with Harper's urgent "Cry of Hunger," which features the tenor saxophonist, who is clearly coming out of the school of latter day John Coltrane, blowing passionately at the outset in a kind of freeblowing dialogue with baritone saxophonist Koehler and trumpeter Marvin "Hannibal" Peterson. Following the cathartic, swirling intro, the piece settles into a soulful and highly expressive vehicle for underrated tenor saxophonist, who unleashes with Trane-esque 'sheets of sound' intensity over the course of his extended and heroic solo. Next up is "Eleven." Co-written by Miles Davis, it originally appeared as "Petits Machins (Little Stuff)" on Miles' 1968 album, Filles de Kilimanjaro. This bristling swinger, which remains a set-closer to this day in Gil Evans Orchestra reunion concerts, features an aggressive high-note solo from trumpeter Richard Williams, an astonishing tuba solo from Joe Daley. Guitarist Ted Dunbar is prominently featured in an extended solo on Harper's "Thoroughbred." Howard Johnson also contributes a remarkably fluid tuba solo on this slow-grooving number. Billy Harper contributes a typically passionate tenor solo and Richard Williams kicks in a potent trumpet solo. And that's percussionist Sue Evans (no relation to Gil) providing the cowbell throughout (let it be said: a full three years before Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper").
Percussionist Evans provides some more coloristic effects on a rendition of George Russell's "Blues in Orbit," which opens in free jazz fashion with Evans' piano statements being answered by flutes, drums, horns and Moog synth before heading into the familiar avant theme. This version features and extended bari solo by Koehler of blast-furnace intensity, as opposed to the lengthy tenor solo by Harper on Svengali. David Sanborn's burning alto solo here (hooked up to a wah-wah pedal for effect) is another highlight of this dynamic offering. The moody closer, "Zee Zee" (Evans' lone composition on this collection) is as evocative and cinematic as Bernard Hermann's music for "Citizen Kane." It features a melancholy, remarkably expressive trumpet solo from Hannibal.
A true giant of jazz, Evans had several notable landmarks along the way in his illustrious career. Born in Toronto on May 13, 1912, he worked as an arranger in the Claude Thornhill Orchestra from 1941 to 1948. In 1949, he began working with fellow composers like Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz in a kind of rehearsal band. Their efforts, which went on for two years, would culminate in the Birth of the Cool sessions which were ultimately released in 1957. Evans would later collaborate with Miles Davis on such historic sessions as 1957's Miles Ahead, 1958's Porgy and Bess, 1960's Sketches of Spain and 1962's Quiet Nights. In 1966, Evans worked with Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto and in 1975 he recorded Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix with guitarists Ryo Kawasaki and John Abercrombie. During the 1980s he established a regular Monday night residency at the Sweet Basil nightclub in Greenwich Village, New York. In 1987, the Gil Evans Orchestra collaborated with Sting on one track (Hendrix's "Little Wing") from the pop star's album, Nothing Like the Sun. Evans died on March 20, 1988. (Milkowski)