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Out of the Cool

The Gil Evans Orchestra

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Album Review

Out of the Cool, released in 1960, was the first recording Gil Evans issued after three straight albums with Miles Davis — Sketches of Spain being the final one before this. Evans had learned much from Davis about improvisation, instinct, and space (the trumpeter learned plenty, too, especially about color, texture, and dynamic tension). Evans orchestrates less here, instead concentrating on the rhythm section built around Elvin Jones, Charlie Persip, bassist Ron Carter, and guitarist Ray Crawford. The maestro in the piano chair also assembled a crack horn section for this date, with Ray Beckinstein, Budd Johnson, and Eddie Caine on saxophones, trombonists Jimmy Knepper, Keg Johnson, and bass trombonist Tony Studd, with Johnny Coles and Phil Sunkel on trumpet, Bill Barber on tuba, and Bob Tricarico on flute, bassoon, and piccolo. The music here is of a wondrous variety, bookended by two stellar Evans compositions in "La Nevada," and "Sunken Treasure." The middle of the record is filled out by the lovely standard "Where Flamingos Fly," Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht's "Bilbao Song," and George Russell's classic "Stratusphunk." The sonics are alternately warm, breezy, and nocturnal, especially on the 15-plus-minute opener which captures the laid-back West Coast cool jazz feel juxtaposed by the percolating, even bubbling hot rhythmic pulse of the tough streets of Las Vegas. The horns are held back for long periods in the mix and the drums pop right up front, Crawford's solo — drenched in funky blues — is smoking. When the trombones re-enter, they are slow and moaning, and the piccolo digs in for an in the pocket, pulsing break. Whoa.

Things are brought back to the lyrical impressionism Evans is most well known for at the beginning of "Where Flamingos Fly." Following a four-note theme on guitar, flute, tuba, and trombone, it comes out dramatic and blue, but utterly spacious and warm. The melancholy feels like the tune "Summertime" in the trombone melody, but shifts toward something less impressionistic and more expressionist entirely by the use of gentle dissonance by the second verse as the horns begin to ratchet things up just a bit, allowing Persip and Jones to play in the middle on a variety of percussion instruments before the tune takes on a New Orleans feel, and indeed traces much of orchestral jazz history over the course of its five minutes without breaking a sweat. "Stratusphunk" is the most angular tune here, but Evans and company lend such an element of swing to the tune that its edges are barely experienced by the listener. For all his seriousness, there was a great deal of warmth and humor in Evans' approach to arranging. His use of the bassoon as a sound effects instrument at the beginning is one such moment emerging right out of the bass trombone. At first, the walking bassline played by Carter feels at odds with the lithe and limber horn lines which begin to assert themselves in full finger popping swing etiquette, but Carter seamlessly blends in. Again, Crawford's guitar solo in the midst of all that brass is the voice of song itself, but it's funky before Johnny Coles' fine trumpet solo ushers in an entirely new chart for the brass. The final cut, "Sunken Treasure," is a moody piece of noir that keeps its pulse inside the role of bass trombone and tuba. Percussion here, with maracas, is more of a coloration device, and the blues emerge from the trumpets and from Carter. It's an odd way to close a record, but its deep-night feel is something that may echo the "cool" yet looks toward something deeper and hotter — which is exactly what followed later with Into the Hot. This set is not only brilliant, it's fun.

Out of the Cool, The Gil Evans Orchestra
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