The Great Album Series

This is the first in what will hopefully be many entries in this new segment, The Great Album Series.  My goal is to hopefully turn you onto some albums that you may have missed, steering away from obvious choices (even though I love OK Computer, chance are you've heard it).  This is also a great way for me to reconnect with albums that I may have neglected over the years.  So, it's only fitting that we start with a Toronto native.  

Gil Evans- Out of the Cool

The Gil Evans Orchestra
Out of The Cool
Impulse Records (1960)
Jazz, cool jazz, big band

The name Gil Evans may not mean much to you, but chances are, you've heard his work.  He was principle arranger behind some of Miles Davis' best albums;  Sketches of Spain, Porgy and Bess, Miles Ahead, and the cool jazz classic Birth of the Cool.  After the release of Davis' Quiet Nights, Evans began a solo career, releasing Big Stuff (also known as Gil Evans & 10) in 1957.  But Evans really comes into his own 3 years later with Out of the Cool.  Cool is really the best word to describe this album.  This is a seriously hip album, and I'm surprised that more Dj's don't latch on to it.  It's a gold mine for sampling.  
Evans subtle arrangements at times mirror those of Charles Mingus,  pushing unusual instruments (Tuba for example), and to the foreground, and relying heavily on groove.  Also like Mingus, the arrangements take a back seat to improvisation. 

Opening track "La Nevada" is a prime example of the Mingus aesthetic, reminding one of his classic album Mingus Ah Um.   The rhythm section really dominates this track, and who better to support this 15 minute groove than Ron Carter and Elvin Jones?   Johnny Coles trumpet solo stands out here, check out his Davis-esque pitch bends about 5 minutes in.  After a quiet build from the rhythm section, starting at about the 9 minute mark, guitarist Ray Crawford really brings it home with a Grant Green flair.

The stand out track for me has always been "Where Flamingos Fly".  A 4 note repetitive figure supports a haunting Trombone melody care of Jimmy Knepper.  Check out Evan's close voice harmonies, and trumpet flutters on this track, serious Evans writing techniques that hearken back to his best work on  Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess.  

"Bilbao Song" sounds like the medley from an un-made mid-60's cop film.  highlights include the paranoid bass melody a minute in, and a cool swing at the 2 minute mark, that could easily support a Steve McQueen seduction scene.

"Stratusphunk" begins with an urgent build, leading into a walking bass line on trombone.  The high register horns take the melody pushing it back into it's urgent beginnings.  Guitarist Ray Crawford takes a laid back solo, with Carter and Jones teasing underneath with a short double time to half time burst.  Johnny Coles follows suit, but it's really Gil Evan's subtle piano playing that controls this piece, check out his work on the fade out. 

"Sunken Treasure" is all about Johnny Coles fantastic solo.  Evan's arrangement are at their best when supporting a trumpet, and this is a prime example.  The little things really stand out.  The high pitched drone from the soprano, the guitar/bass riff, and the opening piano chords.

The last track is the straight ahead "Sister Sadie" written by Horace Silver.  This is the most accessible track on the album, but Evans close voicings subtly challenge and taunt the listener. The dixie-style moments are great, as is the very short drum solo.  To hear parts of Out of the Cool, check out the verve website here

Gil Evans made a lot of music up until his death in 1988.  He worked with big names in the jazz world, constantly experimenting with free jazz, and more avant garde arrangements.  But for me it's this album that cements his place as one of the coolest musicians in jazz. 
A quick side note, this is how cool Gil Evans was, he was planning an album with Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, and the three were to have their first meeting, but plans were put to bed with Hendrix's death in 1970.

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