Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble – Sketches of Spain Revisited (2014)

There is no small amount of blasphemy going on here. We have trumpeter Orbert Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic not just remaking Miles Davis’ generally overpraised Sketches of Spain, but also replacing key parts with new compositions in the same vein. More blasphemous still? I think, to be honest, there are improvements made here.

Sketches, perhaps by no other virtue than its having paired Miles with Gil Evans once more, is these days considered a knee-jerk classic. Still, I suspect, it’s one of those albums people tend to talk about more than necessarily listen to — and not because of any fault with Davis’ performance. He is, of course, faultlessly sharp, then blithely luminous. In fact, for most of Sketches, he feels like the only focused element on a date that’s doomed by its fussy conception, muffled sound and this turbulent rhythmic din that Miles would have far greater success with on later jazz-rock records — with the addition of some greasy funk grooves, of course.

The best of the original conception is retained on Sketches of Spain Revisited, in the opening “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo and “Solea” from Evans. Orbert Davis, who is no relation to Miles, rounds out this 3Sixteen Records project with a pair of his own originals and another from Issac Albeniz in the same vein — and, in so doing, sparks a stirring reevaluation.

They dig deeper into the Spanish culture that the original album meant to celebrate, in particular on the flamenco-inspired “El Moreno” — which contrasts in a far more dramatic way with the well-executed “Concierto.” A new, more aggressive palette of percussion instruments drives the point home, even as it later enlivens “Solea.” Orbert Davis also thinned out Evans’ overstuffed brass section and, by removing several woolen layers, he provides a larger platform for a thrilling swirl of woodwinds. Meanwhile, “El Albaicin” showcases the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s crisply involving strings, adding splashes of new colors.

In the end, rather than settling for another tepid tribute, they’ve chanced a far more satisfying revision. And that assertive step away from the past leaves us — dare I say it? — with something better than what came before.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso