Gil Evans never cared about what the bebop police thought of jazz-rock, pursuing his own electric direction paralleling that of his great friend, Miles Davis, in the 1970s and ’80s. Now that the once-flagging cause of jazz-rock is being taken up with rejuvenated gusto, the inheritor of those two iconic names, Miles Evans (he is Gil’s son), jumped back into the field with a new, powerful septet that he unveiled at Catalina Bar and Grill on Thursday night.
Having been inspired by the emotional Miles Davis-Gil Evans tribute concert at the Hollywood Bowl last August, producer Richard Rice and Evans hammered out the plan for the band on a kitchen table a month later. This compact band would seem to be a more viable touring vehicle than the larger, ongoing Gil Evans Orchestra, which Miles also leads, and there are recording plans afoot for 2010. The personnel will have to be flexible due to prior commitments, but one hopes that a quorum from this lineup can stay in place, for there is a ton of potential here.
It starts with the rhythm section — Darryl Jones, the de facto Rolling Stones bassist since 1993 (and also a Miles Davis and Sting alum), and drummer Kenwood Dennard cooking up churning grooves from all over the jazz-rock spectrum. At one point in a thundering rendition of “Them Changes,” Jones and Dennard were left alone to feed off each other — and they didn’t need anyone else. This is one terrific engine upon which to build a band.
Add to that Larry Goldings’ coaxing, in-the-pocket B3 organ, Rhodes electric piano and electronic lines out of a Nord synthesizer, and Oz Noy’s scattershot guitar, sometimes channeling John Scofield and quoting Jimi Hendrix. The reliable Bob Sheppard and Pablo Calogero provided the saxophone heat — and Miles Evans’ trumpet floated above in sustained, pithy bursts that gradually grew more commanding.
In only five numbers, two of them by Jaco Pastorius, the band summed up a body of styles that ran roughly from Miles Davis circa 1967-68 through Herbie Hancock and CTI jazz-funk, Weather Report and the funkier ’80s experiments of Sting and Jaco. Hard to detect — at least in the first set — were the distinct voicings of Gil Evans himself, but that’s consistent with Evans’ late-period orchestras, where his music became less concerned with dense harmonies and more focused on loose-limbed soloing and electronic color.
The solid base and heritage is there; now, let’s see if these superb musicians can go further and find their ways toward new vistas in jazz-rock. That would be a reflection of the true spirit of Gil Evans, whose music grew younger as he aged.