A double-barrelled shot of history could be heard at the Ford Amphitheater Saturday night, a re-creation of the Miles Davis Nonet by the resurrected Gerry Mulligan Tentet.
It was the first time Mulligan had worked with a tentet (actually 11 pieces) since 1953 — and three survivors from the Davis group (Mulligan, Lee Konitz and Bill Barber) were on hand to give it a stamp of authenticity.
The Miles Davis Nonet records of 1949-50 (now out on a Capitol CD, “Birth of the Cool”) lay claim to being some of jazz’s most influential sides, channeling the heat of bop into a less-frenzied, more intricate form.
Mulligan’s Tentet went on to elaborate upon the Nonet’s innovations, and Mulligan has just re-recorded the old charts on a new album, “Re-Birth of the Cool” (GRP).
The Tentet performed only about half of the Nonet’s tunes, leaving the rest of the program to Mulligan repertoire from the ’50s through the ’90s.
Yet even when stacked against more recent stuff like 1971’s propulsive “K-4 Pacific,” the 1949-50 charts still sound amazingly fresh, with their audaciously dense harmonies in the loaded-up lower brass.
Miles Davis/Gil Evans’ sauntering “Boplicity” might be the hippest, most wonderfully arrogant portrayal of “cool” ever penned. But these charts could also rip with the abandon of “Move” or the life-affirming outbursts of “Godchild.”
Most of the original charts came virtually straight off the old records, sometimes a bit loosely executed but with a lot of the old panache and affection. And at last, one could hear the mellow, full-bodied lower brass in full bloom, unshackled by 1949 constriction.
Mulligan was in tip-top form all night with both the Tentet and his excellent rhythm section, weaving one coherent, witty storyline and countermelody after another on his baritone sax.
Trumpeter Art Farmer was an ideal choice to play in Miles’ old slot with his trademark veiled tone and rounded legato phrasing.
After a rather tentative start in “Jeru,” the legendary Konitz snapped back into form with his unique, withdrawn, floating alto sax.
Rob McConnell, moonlighting from his Toronto big band, generated some commanding swing on his valve trombone in “Blueport” while Bob Routch knocked out a remarkably agile French horn solo.
This was one of only three U.S. dates for the Tentet (the others are in New York and Chicago) before it heads for Europe this summer.