The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions is at the top of this year's reissues.
Without Miles Ahead, there might not have been New Bottle, Old Bottle and Great Jazz Standards, the Gil Evans LPs from '58 and '59 combined here. Evans's first LP collaboration with Miles Davis made him an unlikely star, the first arranger to gain public recognition without separate standing as a composer or soloist. His Pacific Jazz LPs presaged today's jazz repertory movement by initiating a dialogue with the past; along with then-current items like "Django," "Round Midnight" and "Joy Spring," the program features Handy, Morton, Armstrong, Waller, Bix and Don Redman. The earlier session is a partial misfire for which Cannonball Adderley, who can't stop himself from bopping, isn't entirely to blame -- only Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" is fully reimagined, and the older material occasionally smacks of gimmickry (tuba lead on "Struttin' with Some Barbecue"?). The '59 session is the one that lifts this CD near the top of this year's reissues. "Django" is transmuted into Pictures at an Exhibition, "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" into a tone poem and "Joy Spring" into a euphoric series of theme and variations, with the theme coming last. Evans's own "La Nevada (Theme)" drives hardest of all, and amid a parade of inspired soloists -- among them Steve Lacy, Johnny Coles and the inimitable Budd Johnson (on clarinet as well as tenor sax) -- it's Evans who catches you short, his itchy piano on Monk's "Straight No Chaser" eerily close to what Cecil Taylor was doing in 1959.