Davis: Sketches of Spain Revisited (CD review)

Orbert Davis, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. 3Sixteen Records CD31607.

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.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa