By Carl Glatzel, Editor
I revisited some of my favorite albums on the Impulse! label and decided to take another look at Gil Evan’s thought-provoking 1961 release, Out of the Cool.
Although many people may prefer the lengthier and more complex “La Nevada” or the upbeat throwback of “Sister Sadie”, I, historically, have always been drawn to the quiet simplicity of “Where Flamingos Fly”. Let’s start with the title — and what a title! Already, it evokes a sense of mystery and noir. What was Evans imagining when this track was arranged and performed? Seemingly, it’s a very moody and somber place where these brightly-colored birds dwell.
Seemingly, it’s a very moody and somber place where these brightly-colored birds dwell.
Evans’ mastery of arrangement and timing is brought to life in this 5-minute masterpiece. It could be described as a concerto for trombone. Which leads us to another curiosity — the selection for lead voice: trombone. It may have worked with a trumpet or, even more so, a flugelhorn. However, Evans’ choice in a trombone sets the mood beautifully here. There is an understated melancholy in the sound of Jimmy Knepper’s playing which also displays an uncanny grace and humility. After listening to this track countless times I can’t really see any other instrument playing this all-important role.
There is an understated melancholy in the sound of Jimmy Knepper’s playing which also displays an uncanny grace and humility.
A solitary piano repeating the same 4 notes opens the track, soon woodwinds join in the theme and Ron Carter’s strong arco double bass picks up the bottom end with slow, melodic lines. The drama conjured up by the short introduction is staggering. Knepper’s trombone rises out of nowhere to start off his sad, lengthy solo. As the trombone winds around slow-moving turns the sound of hushed percussion and brass begin with fills. But through it all we hear that lonely trombone as it courses through the track. It ends with a return to the 4-note theme and it gently expires — as if vanishing into thin air. It’s an achingly beautiful composition that rarely gets much play these days.
When Gil Evans is mentioned it’s hard not to look back at his historic stint on Columbia with collaborator Miles Davis. Albums like Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain are the usual suspects in most playlists. But as far as creativity and raw emotion go it’s hard not to give Out of the Cool, and more specifically a gem like “Where Flamingos Fly”, a spin or two.
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