Prestige/Analogue Productions APRJ 7120
Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2
When Gil Evans & Ten, Evans’s first album as a leader, was released in early 1958, he’d already been working as an arranger for nearly 20 years, beginning with his stint with bandleader Claude Thornhill, from 1941 to 1948. Evans had been one of the arrangers for Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool project, beginning in 1948, and Gil Evans & Ten followed, by just a few months, Davis’s Miles Ahead (1957), for which Evans had written and conducted the orchestral arrangements. He went on to work with Davis on two more key recordings, Porgy and Bess (1959), Sketches of Spain (1960), as well as At Carnegie Hall (1962) and Quiet Nights (1964).
I was so pleased with the job Analogue Productions did with their reissue of Out of the Cool, Evans’s 1960 Impulse! album, that I immediately ordered their vinyl edition of Gil Evans & Ten when it became available. This is the recording’s first release on vinyl in stereo (its very first stereo release was on a 2003 Prestige SACD/CD). I bought my first LP of Gil Evans & Ten about 20 years ago; Phil De Lancie’s remastering for that edition is almost certainly digital, but it sounds pretty good.
Evans’s 11-piece band includes Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Cleveland, and Paul Chambers, and his arrangements are so subtle that it takes a few listens to hear just how much is going on in them. From the first track, Irving Berlin’s “Remember,” when the band enters after Evans’s opening piano trill, it’s clear that this edition, remastered by Kevin Gray from engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s original stereo mix, has a deeper, wider soundstage than my old LP. The sections of the ensemble are easier to “see” on that stage, and that makes all the difference for an Evans arrangement. Dave Kurtzer’s bassoon, Bart Varsalona’s bass trombone, and Willie Ruff’s French horn give the chart a low-toned warmth that now sounds more textured and focused, and easier to hear in relation to the rest of the band.
Lead Belly’s “Ella Speed” opens with Evans’s sparse piano playing, drummer Nick Stabulas swinging behind him -- in this new pressing, Stabulas’s ride cymbal and snare accents are sharper and cleaner. Lee Konitz’s alto-sax solo has more presence and three-dimensionality, and Jimmy Cleveland’s trombone sounds warmer, larger, and farther out into my room.
The new LP more sharply presents Steve Lacy’s soprano sax in Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” and the instrument plays better against Evans’s percussive piano lines. I could hear the band easing in behind Evans in the early moments of the track, and it sounded more dynamic as the arrangement built. Evans’s high notes about two-thirds of the way through sound fuller, rounder toned, and more emphatic on the Analogue Productions LP.
I was able to borrow a copy of the SACD/CD edition, and it’s true that some of the new LP’s openness and soundstage depth are attributable to the fact that it’s a stereo mix, not the mono of my 20-year-old LP. However, I found the new LP to sound more organic and natural overall, and more balanced. Joe Tarantino mastered the SACD/CD, and I almost always like his work. It may simply be my preference for vinyl, but I also think that Kevin Gray has given the sound a bit more room to spread out.
I still like my old mono pressing of Gil Evans & Ten, and am sure I’ll continue to enjoy it. Now I’m going to track down a copy of the out-of-print SACD/CD. But this new pressing reveals more depth and warmth in the sound, and lets me feel as if I’m closer to the band, and able to hear more of what’s going on in the music.
The disc is beautifully pressed on 200gm vinyl by Quality Record Pressings, and housed in a heavyweight jacket. I noticed one strange thing, however. On both the SACD/CD and my earlier LP, the soloist in “If You Could See Me Now” is clearly trombonist Jimmy Cleveland. In the same track on the new LP, the soloist is a trumpeter using a Harmon mute. In both cases, the arrangement is dynamic and wonderfully modulated, but the difference is clear. A different take?
. . . Joseph Taylor