Monday, July 27, 2009

Sketches of Spain / Sketches of Brazil

There were two major musical milestones in November, 1959. In Rio de Janeiro, Heitor Villa-Lobos died, on November 17, at his home at Rua Araújo Porto Alegre 56, apartment 54. Meanwhile, in New York, Miles Davis arrived at Columbia Studios to record Gil Evans' arrangement of a suite of music including Rodrigo's Concierto de l'Aranguez, which eventually was released as Sketches of Spain. As this classic LP celebrates its 50th Anniversary in the Ano Villa-Lobos, it's interesting to note the connections between these two events.

[picture of Miles Davis: one of Robert W. Kelley's Life Magazine photos taken in May 1958, from the Google Life Archive © Time Inc.]

First of all, run or cyber-hurry, don't walk, to your nearest music seller to buy the 50th Anniversary Enhanced 2 CD Legacy Edition of Sketches of Spain. It includes various takes of the original five tracks, plus different versions of songs not included on the original LP.

The most important of these is Song of Our Country, Gil Evans' version of O Canto de Nossa Terra, the second movement of Bachianas Brasileiras #2. This is amazing, awesome, as complete a reworking of Villa-Lobos as the Bachianas was a reworking of Bach. In the words of blogger Stephen Smoliar,
Villa-Lobos is far better served by Evans' treatment than he ever was by the overabundance of hack adaptations (anyone remember Johnny Mathis?) of the aria from the fifth Bachianas Brasileiras suite.
The LP was controversial when it was released. I believe it's stood the test of time, and it's a legitimate classic now. It's #356 in the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (a list where Miles does well, though very few other jazz artists show up at all).

In honour of both events, Robert Irving III is launching Sketches of Brazil, an orchestral homage to Miles Davis & Gil Evans, and to Heitor Villa-Lobos. The work will be launched at a free concert on Thursday, August 13, 2009, at 6:30 p.m., in Millennium Park, Chicago. In Irving's words,
As Brazilian music was developed via African and European influences, it possesses a unique blend of subtle sophistication that is seamlessly juxtaposed with moving rhythmic undercurrents. I have sought to develop compositions that likewise, unite these seemingly divergent roots.
I hope that Irving and his Sonic Portraits Orchestra end up in the recording studio with Sketches of Brazil. Based on Irving's previous award-winning work with Miles Davis, this may well end up becoming one of the most important legacies of the Ano Villa-Lobos.

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