Davis: Sketches of Spain Revisited (CD review)
In 1959-60 jazz great Miles Davis and arranger/composer Gil Evans made an unusual album for the day titled Sketches of Spain. Combining jazz, classical, and world music, the album confused some of Davis's fans, with many critics of the time claiming it wasn't jazz at all. Yet the recording went on to become one of the best-selling "jazz" albums of all time. Davis merely said, "It's music, and I like it." In 1995 composer Bill Russo asked contemporary trumpeter, bandleader, and currently Associate Professor of Music at the University of Illinois Orbert Davis (no relation to Miles as far as I can tell) to perform the solo part in Sketches at Chicago's Park West, something the latter Mr. Davis found a formidable challenge, especially as the earlier Mr. Davis had performed it in so commanding and semi-improvisational manner. The new sessions went well, and they inspired Orbert Davis to base Sketches of Spain Revisited on the classic original, newly adapted and orchestrated for 2014.
Miles Davis's original Sketches included five movements, of which Orbert Davis's new arrangement retains the first and the last. In between, the newer version contains three new pieces written especially for the "Revisited" Sketches. Things begin with "Concierto de Aranjuez," which Miles based on the third movement of Joaquin Rodrigo's famous guitar concerto. Rodrigo himself apparently did not care for what Miles did with his music, and, indeed, compared to the original the Miles Davis rendition does not quite measure up. For one thing, a trumpet is not a guitar and cannot convey the same moods as a guitar. However, the point is not in any comparison. What Miles did should stand on its own, which it does quite nicely. More important, what Orbert Davis does with Miles's work is equally nice. Davis's trumpet sounds out regally yet somewhat plaintively, providing an effective counterpoint to the background support. Although, as I said, a trumpet is not a guitar and does not evoke the Spanish flavor of the Rodrigo original, it does offer compensating musical nuances and shadings of its own. Fans of trumpet solos, jazz or not, should enjoy it.
Accompanying Orbert Davis on the new disc is the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, comprising about twenty musicians on flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, piccolo, trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, flugelhorn, violin, viola, cello, piano, bass, and percussion, the arrangement of instrumentation varying with the movements.
After the "Concierto de Aranjuez" we have two movements especially composed for the Sketches Revisited. The first of these new pieces is "Muerte del Matador" and the second is "El Moreno." In "Muerte" it seems as though the musicians most explicitly touch upon a characteristic Spanish style, perhaps its extensive use of guitar helping set the tone. "El Moreno" is the most dramatic selection on the program, with its driving, forward beat quite infectious in a Spanish-Moorish manner.
Following those items is another new addition, "El Albaicin," originally written by Spanish composer and pianist Isaac Albeniz as a piano piece. Of all the music on the disc I enjoyed "El Albaicin" the most, perhaps because--no offense to Davis's fine trumpet work--it highlights the talents of a string quartet. "El Albaicin" is also the most classical-sounding of the numbers, albeit in a modern vein. It supplies a contrast with the trumpet items that make up the rest of the album.
Sketches of Spain Revisited ends with "Solea," a rhythmically catchy piece. In "Solea" Davis tells us he introduced elements of Spanish, African, and Middle Eastern percussion instruments, and the result is quite attractive. It makes a fitting and most easily accessible conclusion to a fascinating new alternative pop-classical jazz set.
Producers Orbert Davis and Mark Ingram, recording engineer and mixer Roger Heiss, and mastering engineer Trevor Sadler recorded the music at Tone Zone Recording, Chicago, Il; and 3Sixteen Records and Orbark Productions released the disc in 2014. There's a fairly good depth of image present and a reasonably clear midrange, too, with a minimal amount of fuzz around the edges. A wide stereo spread feels welcome, as does the clean trumpet sound. The sonics are most transparent when the ensemble is smallest, as one might expect.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.