Saturday, June 5, 2021

Jazz Covers: Gil Evans and Jimi Hendrix

The Gil Evans Orchestra: Voodoo Chile

I’ve written about the cover of “Little Wing” that is on this album (or, at least some versions of it) a couple of times, as well as mentioning seeing the Gil Evans Orchestra at a free outdoor concert in Florence in 1981, which was great, but I really don’t remember whether they played any Hendrix that night. I knew enough about Evans in 1981 to know that he was worth seeing, especially at that price, but not enough to really know about the music. Except to remember that I really enjoyed it. 

Gil Evans, a pianist and composer, is probably best known as an arranger, particularly for Miles Davis, after whom Evans named a son. Although his career was mostly in the jazz world, Evans’ musical tastes were broad, and he was a particularly big fan of Hendrix. In fact, Hendrix was scheduled to record and perform with a big band led by Evans, but Hendrix’s death prevented this intriguing combination from coming together. Instead, in 1975, Evans released an album of Hendrix covers, all done with an unusual 19-piece big band, including, among others, Hannibal Marvin Peterson, Lew Soloff, Pete Levin (brother of Tony), David Sanborn, John Abercrombie, Ryo Kawasaki, Tom “Bones” Malone, and Howard Johnson. 

The songs are, of course, great, and the arrangements, by Evans and other members of the group, are inventive, interesting and sometimes unexpected. For example, the version of “Voodoo Chile” controversially begins with tuba master Johnson sounding like he’s playing the kazoo, before the orchestra weighs in. And while Johnson takes a tuba solo, there’s no lack of guitar wailing, It’s a polarizing take, but certainly one that makes you think. 

The Gil Evans Orchestra also backed Sting (who started his musical career as a jazz bass player) on his excellent, more rock-oriented cover of “Little Wing,” featuring a great guitar solo by Hiram Bullock, a regular Evans collaborator and former member of David Letterman’s band. Sting and Evans performed together in Italy, in a performance that was released as a live album.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Jazz Covers: Spyro Gyra

purchase [ Vinyl Tap ]

My previous post, I interpreted the current theme as covers of a jazz classic. Here, a jazz band (well ... jazz-fusion) doing covers of music from the 70s.

One of my favorite jazz-fusion groups is Spyro Gyra. Their music is kind of easy to listen to - not the kind of jazz that requires you to work hard. And while I recognize that there is a place for that kind of musical experience, it's generally not my favorite experience: I prefer accessible melody.

I don't keep track of what most bands are doing on an ongoing basis and I had my doubts that they had ever done any covers - mostly not their "thing". But wait ... no ... There's their <Vinyl Tap> album: all covers in their jazz/fusion style. The band has been around in various configurations since 1974, and this collection from 2019 was their 31st.

A number of prominent reviewers express scepticism that the band could pull off an album of covers - but they do. Remarkably well. All of them filled with unexpected notes- the essence of jazz.

And, while you really should go out and get yourself a copy of the whole album, we can give you a handful right here. And then maybe you'll head out a buy it for the rest.

Thursday, June 3, 2021


After the last post there was only one possible follow on piece, to look at a brilliant and mesmerisingly accurate spoof on/homage to Brubeck, and, of course, the Stranglers. One that had a fair few fooled. 

Was Dave Greenfield, the late keyboard player for the Stranglers, and the writer of the repeating harpsichord riff in the song, influenced by Brubeck? He would say not, but it does not seem unreasonable to think each were influenced by the composers of the baroque period, as, for that matter, will have been Ray Manzarek, often and lazily touted as Greenfield's main contemporary influence. Who cares, frankly, I love 'em all, and could listen all day to any of these three.

Laurence Mason is a music graduate of Leeds Conservatoire who likes messing around with the available technology, as well as being an adept player of many instruments. When Greenfield died, he wanted to pay tribute and, already aware of the acknowledged similar ambience of both Golden Brown and Take Five, apropos existing mash-ups like this, decided to go a step further: 

A little tribute to Dave Greenfield (keyboardist with The Stranglers who died with Covid-19 last week) and Paul Desmond (saxophonist with the Dave Brubeck quartet – the anniversary of his death is at the end of this month).

Also because I’ve been enjoying editing videos and recording stuff over the last couple of months. A couple of people have asked how I made this video so here we go – I took a clip from a 1964 live version of Take Five (…) and made the drum loop by chopping up the intro and turning it from 5/4 into the 3/4 – 4/4 groove that Golden Brown has. The upright bass sound is sequenced from Logic, and the piano part was played in using one of the piano sounds from a Nord Electro 5D. Then I played the sax part over the top (I play a King Zephyr alto and for this I used a hard rubber Yanigasawa mouthpiece rather than my usual bright Guardala).

The video was then edited using the clip I’d taken the drum loop from.” — Laurence Mason

This interview delves deeper. First imagined as a bit of fun, once embedded in Youtube, sufficient hits drew it to the attention of Paul Murphy, influential on the UK jazz scene, and it swiftly became available as a record to download or buy. Under the name, groan, of 'Take Vibe'. (With, on the flip, an equally iconic take on the Police's 'Walking on the Moon'.)

So, what else has Mason been up to? Initially a whole album was projected and, who knows, maybe it still is, lockdown possibly casting a cloud of best laid plans etc. I would certainly be interested.

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