Downbeat Review – January, 2014

Digipak 4P 1CDChuck Israels Jazz Orchestra

Second Wind: A Tribute To The Music Of Bill Evans

4 1/2 stars

As the famous album title has it, everybody digs Bill Evans. But not everybody has sufficiently dug Chuck Israels, Evans’ great, underappreciated bassist from his second trio (1962–1966). This album, Israels’ return to full-time performing  after a 30-year teaching career, should win him new fans for his prodigious skills as both arranger and bassist, even as it serves to remind longtime Evans devotees of his significant contribution to Evans’ body of work. 

Israels, of course, was the replacement for the legendary Scott La Faro, who died in a car accident in 1961, the loss of a friend and creative partner that had devastated Evans. Eventually he found his footing with Israels, who had worked with a who’s who of greats including Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane. Besides being a brilliant technician with a wonderful round tone, Israels was an exquisitely sensitive musical partner who helped bring out the best in the introspective Evans. After his stint with Evans, Israels studied composition and arranging with Hal Overton, who arranged Thelonious Monk compositions for a tented at Monk’s triumphant 1959 Town Hall concert. Later, Israels became a pioneer of the jazz repertory movement, founding and leading the National Jazz Ensemble from 1973 to 1981.

Although Israels has played Evans tunes with others (notably Danish pianist Thomas Clausen on the excellent 2003 trio album For Bill), this is the first time he has orchestrated a whole album of songs associated with or inspired by Evans for a larger ensemble. Over the years there have been many other notable Evans tributes, including a 1998 big-band effort by Don Sebesky and, more recently, Chick Corea’s Further Explorations, which sought to build on and extend Evans’ pio- neering ideas about the piano trio format as a near-democracy among the piano, bass and drums.

Few, however, have captured the essence of Evans as faithfully as Israels has here, with an octet he has assembled in his new hometown of Portland, Ore. This thrilling, nearly perfect recording, produced with startling in-your-face clarity by David Berger, is old-school in the best sense; it often sounds like a cool jazz octet or nonet from the early to mid-’60s (minus the tape hiss), sometimes calling to mind Oliver Nelson or Gil Evans. Israels is out to capture the harmonic sub- tleties of Evans’ unique voicings, as well as his innate sense of swing, in an octet setting, and he succeeds splendidly. The tightly disciplined unit combines just the right amount of reverence for the lyricism of Evans’ originals with opportuni- ties for the talented band to solo. Israels cracks the whip, however—he eschews noodling, showing off and general screwing around with these brilliant tunes.

The set includes classic Evans compositions like the uptempo “Show-Type Tune”; the tricky-timed “Five,” an amusing exercise in cool; and, of course, a generous sampling of the melancholy ballads that were Evans’ hallmark, including breathtaking treat- ments of “Detour Ahead” and “Spring Is Here.” Evans combined impressionistic harmonies, key- board virtuosity and indomitable swing to create something totally new; Israels does for Evans’ trio tunes what his teacher Overton did for Monk, which is to say, a lot.

—Allen Morrison

Second Wind: Show-Type Tune; Detour Ahead; Five; Spring Is Here; Waltz For Debby; Margot’s Mood; Some Other Time; Minor Tributary; Who Can I Turn To; Israel. (56:17)
Personnel: Chuck Israels, bass, arranger; John Nastos, alto saxophone, flute; David Evans, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Robert Crowell, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Paul Mazzio, trumpet, flugelhorn; John Moak, trombone; Dan Gaynor, piano; Christopher Brown, drums; Margot Hanson, Jessica Israels, vocals.

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Portland church will celebrate Pentecost with Duke Ellington’s music

The Oregonian
Author – Nancy Haught


“Every man prays in his own language,” Duke Ellington said. His language -– jazz –- will help proclaim the story of Pentecost  on Sunday at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church  in suburban Northwest Portland.

Jessica Israels, music director at the Bethany-area parish, enlisted her bass-playing father, Chuck Israels, and a host of other Portland jazz musicians, for the 10 a.m. Eucharist, or communion, service featuring Ellington’s sacred music.

Vicar LouAnn Pickering thinks it’s a perfect pairing with Pentecost, the day Christians commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus. Pickering recalls the biblical setting for Pentecost, recounted in the second chapter of Acts.

“The disciples are in the upper room. They feel the wind. They see the flames over each others’ heads. They burst out into the streets and begin preaching. Everyone who hears them hears in their own language,” she says

“It’s a celebration of the unity of the church, the birthday of the church,” she adds. “It marks the holy being within each one of us, no matter who we are.”

Other Episcopal congregations have led the way with services based on popular music. Trinity Cathedral has worshiped to songs by Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie. And Augustana Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland has had a Sunday evening jazz service for years.

But setting an entire service to Ellington’s music is still something unusual. He composed for a big band, full choir, soloists and dancers. The sacred concerts he presented near the end of his career were “big spectacles,” according to Jessica Israels.

She, her father and pianist Reece Marshburn  have rearranged Ellington’s music for a smaller ensemble, including a small choir, three vocal soloists, a rhythm section with a trumpet and trombone. They’ve also reworked harmonies for some familiar parts of the service – the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnes Dei – so they “sound” like Ellington, she said.

Some of the musicians performing Sunday play in her father’s eight-piece jazz band. Her dad, famous for his work with the Bill Evans Trio and his efforts as director of the National Jazz Ensemble from 1973 to 1981, was director of jazz studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He and Jessica performed together when she was an undergraduate at Western.

Ellington’s sacred music was the focus of the composer’s later life. “It was deeply meaningful and heart-felt,” Chuck Israels says. “It had the power and immediacy of the everyday vernacular.” A hundred years from now, he adds, Ellington’s music will be considered the best of the 20th century.

“It’s about time that we recognize that African American heritage is part of our lives,” he says. “It ought to get out to the suburbs.”

Jessica Israels says some listeners haven’t heard any of Ellington’s sacred songs, but some can be heard on YouTube. The upcoming performance will include “Come Sunday,” “Heaven” and “Ain’t But the One,” she says.

Pickering is thrilled that Ellington’s music is filtering out to the suburban church.

“It’s a different language than we’re used to. It’s joyful, creative and very American. And we’re celebrating artists we have in our midst,” she says.

“When we come to pray, something a little bit different opens a new path sometimes. To break a mold once in a while is not a bad thing.”

singer, educator & conductor

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