Britten Sinfonia * * *
at Birmingham Town Hall
Review by Peter Bacon

The work orchestrator Gil Evans and trumpeter Miles Davis did 50 years ago has had deep resonance not only in the jazz world but in that of contemporary classical music too, so a concert entitled In the Spirit of Gil and Miles should unite soloists and an ensemble that step outside the conventional genres.

I had been half expecting sterile recreations of Concierto de Aranjuez and My Ship, but what we got were new looks at these pieces with vocalist Luciana Souza taking the trumpet solo parts, and guitarist Romero Lubambo in support.

Arranger and musical director Gil Goldstein had reworked the Evans charts accordingly and written new ones, as the concert title suggests. The results were mixed.

His reworking of some of Bach's Musical Offering, and a couple of Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras showed that where Evans kept a dry martini tartness to everything he wrote, Goldstein has a sweeter tooth.

The Britten Sinfonia did their best with it but the Bach was too lush and lumpy, while the Villa-Lobos left me aching to hear the original.

The hidden treasure of the evening was to be found at the start of the second half: Jackie's Dance, written specially for Britten leader, violinist Jacqueline Shave, and with Gil Evans' spirit at his shoulder, by the young British jazz musician Gwilym Simcock.

This was the only piece that incorporated Evans' legacy while sounding like it was centred in 2007.

The compositional voice was fresh, the Evans references witty, and Shave's spirited performance, as well as drummer Alex Acuna's solo, brought verve to the proceedings that had been absent elsewhere.

If there is a caveat, it is that Simcock adds too many ideas - a bit more reworking of less material and a couple of minutes trimmed would make it even better.

The audience showed their appreciation the whole evening, and there was much to admire, but what would Gil have thought? I suspect he would have saved his nod of appreciation for Jackie's Dance.