Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sketches Of Spain Live

Friday night saw a rare treat - a Miles Davis performance. OK, OK, so not a reincarnated Miles but a reverent treatment of the music he performed with Gil Evans.

The performance was a three-way collaboration between the City of Birmingham Symphony orchestra, the BBC big band, and solo trumpeter Jon Faddis (once described by Dizzy Gillespie as "the best ever, including me!"). There's no doubt that all of the musicians were of the highest calibre, and the sound created was just like having Miles and the Gil Evans orchestra in front of you (all the more amazing when you consider that, for 'Sketches of Spain', no parts existed and the conductor had to create all of them from scratch by transcribing from the recording!).

Here's a run down of what was played...

Overture - Part 1: 12 for 12, Part 2: Segments from Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess - Miles Ahead, Bess, You Is My Woman Now, Gone


Sunken Treasure

Prelude to So What

From Birth of the Cool - Jeru, Moon Dreams, Boplicity

Porgy and Bess - Gone

Arab Dance


Sketches of Spain - Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez, Will o' the Wisp, The Pan Piper, Saeta, Solea

The pieces were performed by a varying mixture of orchestra and big band depending on the requirements of the individual tune; the selections from 'Birth of the Cool' were performed by a nonet, in the style of the originals, and while they sounded great the massive concert hall was just too big for such a small group to make an impression on.

Highlights? "Springsville" was a much needed boost after a lacklustre overture. It introduced Faddis, who is a technically brilliant trumpeter. His mastery of dynamics was second to none, and his ability to bend notes was simply amazing. The rest of the first half slid by in inoffensice but unexciting style. It would have been a safe bet that a big band arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "Arab Dance" (from the Nutcracker) would be a dog, but they pulled it off, and behind "springsville", this was the highlight of the first part.

The second segment was basically a run through of the whole Sketches of Spain LP. Most of it was pleasant but forgettable (much like the album, in my opinion - you were both capable of so much more than this, Miles & Gil!). But the lead track, and centre of the suite - the 'Concierto de Aranjuez' itself, was worth the price of admission alone. This is where the CBSO could really get into their stride and demonstrate why they're one of the world's leading symphony orchestras. And Faddis was more than a match for them, playing with such passion and vitality that at times you could forget that he was playing his solos off the chart, and imagine that Miles was right there in front of you. Magical. It's just a shame the rest was so humdrum.

So a mixed evening. A reverent treatment of a classic from the Jazz 'canon', but perhaps not the best gig to see if you like your jazz (as I do) a bit more 'progressive' .No doubt my views on 'Sketches of Spain' will be heresy to some, but hey, that's what I think. It's worth seeing anything along these lines again, though, due to the brilliance of the orchestra and the interest inherent in an exercise such as this.

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