In 1958, George Gershwin’s opera Porgy And Bess was very much in vogue. Several jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Collette, and Mundell Lowe had already created their own versions of certain songs. Cal Lampley, George Avakian’s successor, wanted to take advantage of the fact that a film version of the opera was in production. Gil Evans’ adaptation of Gershwin’s score was a veritable tour de force. He chose certain pieces and reorganized the chronology of the original work, adding “Gone,” a completely original work whose tonal combinations placed it among his masterworks. The fierce violence of the orchestra’s overture, the funeral lamentations of “Gone, Gone, Gone,” and the powerful clamors of “Prayer” seized the audience and released their grip only to overwhelm them with the astonishing romanticism of the
trumpeter who, with an actor’s intuition and a dandy’s grace, slipped into the skin of the different characters.
Original issue: Columbia LP CS 8095 on March 9, 1959
Producer: Cal Lampley
Engineer: Frank Laico
July 22, 1958
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
Tomes are available annotating the importance of this recording. The musical and social impact of Miles Davis, his collaborative efforts with Gil Evans, and in particular their reinvention of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess are indeed profound. However, the most efficient method of extricating the rhetoric and opining is to experience the recording. Few other musical teams would have had the ability to remain true to the undiluted spirit and multifaceted nuance of this epic work. However, no other musical teams were Miles Davis and Gil Evans. It was Evans' intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively capture the essence of both.
The four dates needed to complete work on Porgy and Bess include contributions from several members of his most recent musical aggregate: Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (alto sax), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). Although the focus and emphasis is squarely on Davis throughout, the contributions of the quartet on "Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus)," "I Loves You, Porgy," and "There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York" are immeasurable. They provide a delicate balance in style and, under the direction of Evans, incorporate much of the same energy and intonation here as they did to their post-bop recordings.
There is infinitely more happening on Porgy and Bess, however, with much of the evidence existing in the subtle significance of the hauntingly lyrical passages from Danny Banks' (alto flute) solos, which commence on "Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil Crab." Or the emotive bass and tuba duet that runs throughout "Buzzard Song." The impeccable digital remastering and subsequent reissue -- which likewise applies to the Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings box set -- only magnifies the refulgence of Porgy and Bess. Likewise, two previously unissued performances have been appended to the original baker's dozen. No observation or collection of American jazz can be deemed complete without this recording.
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