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Gil Evans, who died in 1988, is best-known for his groundbreaking arrangements on the classic Miles Davis recordings Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. But he was also a gifted pianist, composer and bandleader — skills that were on display at Greenwich Village’s Sweet Basil jazz club during Monday night gigs held regularly in the last five years of his life. And while attempting to recapture the magnificence of these sessions in the recording studio decades later, sans Evans, might seem like a doomed proposition, the vibrancy of Hidden Treasures proves otherwise.
The Orchestra’s membership shifted regularly and the material and arrangements weren’t limited to Evans’ work, and that’s reflected by the album’s personnel and programming. The 20-plus musicians who contributed include Davis alumni such as bassist Darryl Jones, prominent solo artists like trumpeter Jon Faddis and even longtime David Letterman keyboardist Paul Shaffer.
The players change from tune to tune, but the quality doesn’t. The opener, “Subway,” written and arranged by contributing keyboardist Pete Levin, is a powerful number that blissfully blows past one stop after another; “I Surrender,” a team effort by Orchestra members Delmar Brown, Alex Foster and Charles Blenzig, is stirring and multi-layered; and the Evans-penned “Moonstruck” and “Eleven,” which close the set, respectfully constitute a beguiling miniature and a thrilling roof-raiser.
Trumpeter Miles Evans, Gil’s son, is working with his brother Noah Evans on a planned series of three new Orchestra recordings, of which this is the first — and he gets in his licks, too. He wrote “LL Funk,” an entertaining groover replete with a scorchingly distorted turn by guitarist Vernon Reid. His dad, who led the Orchestra when it devoted an entire album to the work of Jimi Hendrix, would no doubt be proud.—Michael Roberts
Featured photo by Carol Friedman.