FAME Review: Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble - Sketches of Spain Revisited
Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble - Sketches of Spain Revisited

Sketches of Spain Revisited

Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble

316 Records - CD31607

Available from 316 Records' online store.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Gil Evans and Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain remains a landmark in modern music, as does Miles himself, and though many rock and roll ensembles have taken to recreating their own top shelf albums in concert as a delightful concession to audiences enthralled with the original releases and then the renditions, it's exceedingly rare that any non-rock non-classical group will tackle someone else's opus collections. Classicalist musicians, of course, make such moves as standard pro forma strategy. It's their bread and butter, their raison d'être, their be-all and their end-all—um, above and beyond the fact that they seem nearly totally incapable of creating original works—but trumpeter Orbert Davis' decision to re-create, interpret, and then re-imagine Sketches was a radical turn of mind.

Davis co-founded the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic along with Mark Ingram, doing so as a way of taking on multi-genre projects and uplevelling the noticeable lack of creativity in classical-prone ensemble work, injecting what Davis and Ingram rightly term 'a new aesthetic'. Classical players may be and are brilliant performers but when it comes to, as I noted above, innate originalities? Well, that's another story, but that's what jazz has always been about, the voice of the individual within highly disciplined frameworks. Thus, Davis decided to celebrate CJP's incipient 10th anniversary by moving both Mohammed and mountain.

With Sketches Revisited, I can now expand my personal critic's Davis duo, Miles and Anthony, to a trio. One cannot possibly avoid the titanic shadow of Miles, but Anthony also worked within jazz and symphonic realms, and I've always found his orchestral (Ghost Factory, X, The Life & Times of Malcolm X) and mid-sized ensemble (Episteme, Hemispheres) work fascinating. Orbert becomes third-man-in with this rather daring release, as the same collection of influences and individuality reign. One clearly hears the Stravinsky and other classicalists that also influenced Miles (Bartok, Mahler, etc.) included, but Orbert adds Sousa and Ives along with Tarrega and the Spanish composers one has come to expect of such ventures, even a bit of Shostakovich.

Switch then to his own Porgy 'n Bess-ish trumpet intro to Tarrega's spirit (and of course Albeniz and Rodrigo's) as Concierto de Aranjuez ends its intro, dropping into a meditative pool of calm slowly roused by the orchestra. Davis' tone and nuances are distinctive, well removed from Miles' or, say, Wynton's, individualistic because the man well understood that Miles can never be duplicated. The late icon "played from the depths of his soul", as Orbert observed, and thus so has he, free to bring his heart into play right alongside the master's. His charts and movements for the orchestra are also intriguing, following the linearity of Miles and Gil Evans' intent but taking equally broad liberties to re-decide direction and inflections.

Then arise three of his own pieces (Muerte del Matador, El Moreno, and El Albaicin) dropping out the seminal LP's Will o the Wisp, The Pan Piper, and Saeta, retaining the epics, Concierto de Aranjuez and Solea…and this is precisely what's wanted and needed in re-invocations. I suppose it's all very well to sit down and listen to faithful copycat recitations as a matter of secondary appreciation, but, really, how much of the individual's artfulness drops away when doing that, when copping so much without also giving? A lot, and Davis eschews that danger, which would threaten towards mundanity, instead renewing the sense of what he found when listening to the original magnum opus. Interestingly, the bass guitar (a la Stewart Miller) assumes a huge role in Aranjuez, almost equal to the trumpet, fundamentally shifting groundwork in one of many refurbishings.

Really, though, all you need to know beyond my tackling philosophy and that 17:56 first track, is that this is a unique work standing very very well on its own with highly respectful innovative resonances and augmentations to the 1960 original. Recently, another complete re-up was wrought upon Henry Mancini's Music for Peter Gunn by Steve Richman and the Harmonie Ensemble/New York (here), a release that also includes many shifts away from mimeography, re-patterning a number of elements in copious interpretations. Though the two releases, Richman's and Davis', are very dissimilar, they're also very much in alignment in terms of sheer creativity paying homage to past lions, so let's hope this sort of thing becomes a tradition rather than the present matter of intermittent exceptions breaking the rules…but making them better thereby.

Track List:

  • Concierto de Aranjuez (Joaquin Rodrigo; orig. arr by Gil Evans, adapted & orch. by Orbert Davis)
  • Muerte del Matador (Orbert Davis)
  • El Moreno (Orbert Davis)
  • El Albaicin (Isaac Albeniz; arr. by Orbert Davis)
  • Solea (Gil Evans; original arr. by Gil Evans, adapted and orch. by Orbert Davis)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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