‘Gil Evans & Ten’: A Modern Maestro’s First

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Recently, I purchased an audiophile edition of the 1957 album, Gil Evans & Ten. I’ll just start by saying that 200-gram analog vinyl—in mono—never sounded so good. Of course, there’s the sheer audiophile delight of holding a 200-gram vinyl record in your hands, not to mention how good it sounds. I have long been a fan of Gil Evans’ work, so when I realized that I didn’t have this album in my collection yet, I knew that I had to have it.

Born in 1912 in Toronto, Canada, Gil Evans moved to California and got his early start playing in swing bands during the 1930s. He eventually moved to New York City, where his basement apartment behind a Chinese laundry became a meeting ground for modern jazz musicians like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, and trumpeter and TV soundtrack writer John Carisi.

By the time of Gil Evans & Ten, he was already famous for his work with Miles Davis on Birth of the Cool (1949) and Miles Ahead (also 1957). But this was Gil Evans’ first album as a leader. In his 10-piece band, he included two trumpets, a French horn, bassoon and bass trombone to help create the tonal colors and textures that he was so famous for. To help bring his musical vision to life, he enlisted Steve Lacy on soprano sax; Jimmy Cleveland, trombone; Paul Chambers, bass; and Nick Stabulas on drums.

Evans had a slow and meticulous way of working. His arrangements were challenging to even the best musicians. It’s said that Claude Thornhill, whose orchestra Evans cut his teeth on between 1941–48, would often punish his band by forcing them to play Evans’ diabolically difficult arrangements. Even Miles Davis once remarked that Sketches of Spain was the most difficult record he’d ever made.

That same complexity can be heard throughout his arrangements on Gil Evans & Ten as well. I just love magical musical textures of Evans’ signature sonic blend of French horns, tubas and flutes. Steve Lacy is brilliant on soprano sax—the ugly duckling of the saxophone family. (It was Lacy who really perfected the soprano sax sound, turning Coltrane and countless other jazz horn players onto the instrument. Thanks to him, the soprano sax is a staple in modern jazz groups.) Another thing that makes this album so special is that we get to hear more of Evans’ piano playing than on any of his other records.

For those of you with a good turntable and a decent hi-fi system, your jazz vinyl collection will not be complete without this audiophile version. And even if you haven’t got a hi-fi system,Gil Evans & Ten is available on cd at a reasonable price. Just be sure to set your controls to mono, please.