Check back often for more analyses, recordings, and thoughts as I work my way through my series of transcriptions.
I first picked up “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans” because I had met Ryan Truesdell and had great respect for his process and dedication to good music. It helped that I knew some of Gil Evans’ music, but I hadn’t really checked it out in much depth. If you haven’t checked out Gil much, you should know that he’s a master of orchestration, and an incredibly gifted arranger. After I got over the classiness and intricacy of the compositions, I noticed the individuals on the record. In the liner notes, Ryan explains: “In Gil’s compositional mind, a soprano wasn’t just a soprano, it became Steve Lacy; a trumpet became Miles Davis, or Johnny Coles.” As Ryan organized this band, he “chose each person on this record for what [he] felt their individual voice would bring to the music,” much in the way Gil would have written for his band. It’s this aspect of the music that makes this solo so great.
I’ve been a fan of Scott Robinson since I first heard him in Maria Schneider’s band while I was in college. His sound on the baritone is an all-encompassing history of jazz baritone, with a voice all his own. He’s been an inspiration to me as a doubler (he regularly has at least five woodwind credits to his name on recordings), and as a section player; his baritone is the warm bottom of every reed section in which he plays. In Ryan’s Gil Evans band, however, he holds down one of the tenor/clarinet chairs. I had never known Scott as a tenor player, and was consequently blown away when I discovered that he was the force behind this solo. In a band featuring so many great soloists (Donny McCaslin, Steve Wilson, Dave Pietro…), it’s obvious that Ryan gave this solo to Scott with purpose; his sound, his feel, and his melodic concept fit this piece like a glove.
Scott’s ability to use pseudo-contemporary language in a way that connects to an older style makes this solo so enjoyable for me. I play in a 1930s-era swing band every week, and always struggle with the balance of playing in the style of the era without abandoning too much of my vocabulary. Scott seems to strike the perfect balance in this solo. I say pseudo-contemporary because he doesn’t use much chromaticism typical of many modern performers. He does use a good deal of bebop language – not so much so that it takes away from the era of the song, but enough to make it more melodically adventurous. For example, in his first two phrases, he resolves to the ninth and major seventh, respectively. Aside from those moments, he sticks mainly to chord tones and passing tones throughout the solo.
The brevity of this solo was one of the most striking things I noticed at first. As I listened more to the album as a whole, it stood out because of its relative lack of modern language. The more I dug into the solo, the more I realized that Scott was incorporating himself into this classic tradition, rather than molding himself to it and playing a caricature of the style. This is a lesson I can learn over and over again – incorporation beats imitation any time.