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Porgy and Bess Import
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Porgy & Bess
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.Label: CBS.Published: 1987
Top customer reviews
At its best, though, the collaboration between Miles and the orchestrations produces some wonderful music. The masterpiece is “Summertime”, which reconstructs the famous operatic lullaby using a gospel-style ‘call and response’ structure. Over a perfectly judged slow walking pace set by bass and drums, the orchestra plays a repeated six-note ‘response’ phrase which Evans subtly varies with changes of voicing and instrumentation. Above this, on muted trumpet, Miles floats a series of inspired, though essentially simple, variations on the melody. The opening statement of Gershwin’s theme uses fragments of the well-known melody in a hint of a declamatory style, as if Miles is giving the ‘call’ to which the orchestra ‘responds’. If that sounds at all complicated, the effect is actually very simple, and as direct in its appeal as any piece of music can be. But for me part of that appeal lies in the emotional ambiguity of the performance – the way in which it seems to hover between plaintive lament and optimistic joy.
My other favourites are the more obviously plaintive “Gone, Gone, Gone”, the up-tempo variation on it – “Gone” – which has a superb solo from Miles accompanied only by Paul Chambers’ driving bass and Philly Jo Jones’s excitable, intense drumming, “The Buzzard Song” with Miles’s rich-toned flugelhorn floating above some equally rich brass scoring, the beautifully arranged fragment “Here Come de Honey Man”, and a joyous, spontaneous sounding “There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York”.
A classic album. But is it really not possible in the 21st century for remastering technology to eliminate that ghostly pre-echo which has so far haunted every version on LP, tape and CD?
Unfortunately my listening experience was spoilt when I got to side 2.
There were two deep scratches on the first track and the second song didn't fear too well either.
Had to second back the LP.
The 'Buzzard Song' opens the album with a grooving bass line by Paul Chambers, cleverly imitated by a tuba that follows suit (how many albums have you heard with a grooving tuba?). Then the lyrical note changes of 'Bess, You Is My Woman', before one of the highlights of the album, 'Gone'. This is something of a departure from Gershwin's opera itself, but the backing players relish the opportunity for some pure jazz playing, topped off with Jones's ramshakle drum playing. The power of 'Summertime' has much to do with its basic composition, which is at once both strong and tender and lends itself to so many interpretations. On this version the musical backing acts as a counter to Davis's elegant soloing. 'Oh Bess, where's my Bess' proves to be the most uplifting of these tracks while 'Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus)' contains character-filled contributions from all the players building to a monumental crescendo.
'Fisherman....' begins with the evocative alto flute of Danny Banks, floating above a slight air of menance in the backing arrangement. The straining lament of 'My Man's Gone Now' is followed by the great toe-tapping swing arrangement of 'It Ain't Necessarily So'. Gil Evans arrangements do much to colour Davis's trumpet playing as in 'Here Comes de Honey Man'.
The final highlight 'There's A Boat Leaving Soon For New York' sounds unstoppable and effusive, a clear joy for all involved. Each individual player becomes Miles Davis's equal in this explosive finale. Again I have to mention the universal appeal of Miles Davis's work, whether indulging in a simple, lazy melody or bringing subtle nuances to the fore, his playing is wonderfully haunting.
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