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Taking its name from an anagram of Gil Evans, the album Svengali appeared briefly during the Seventies on the Atlantic label. When it went out of print it became a collectors’ item, mint copies exchanging hands for remarkable sums of money.

At the time it was widely recognised as an important statement from the only arranger in jazz whose name can be mentioned in the same breath as Duke Ellington. Here, Evans met the Rock Age, but, as might be expected from the great talent behind some of the finest jazz recordings of all time such as Birth of the Cool, Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain, he did it in a way that reflected his prolific imagination and astonishing writing skills.

Svengali appears as a logical step from The Individualism of Gil Evans (Verve), even though it was recorded some ten years later. Once again Evans reveals his mastery of both tonal and rhythmic shading, albeit here more explicitly stated; tonally, a synthesizer is written into the voicings while the rhythm section patterns, while not emulating rock per se, are certainly squarer. Voicing freely across unusual combinations of instruments, Evans weaves his soloists into the fabric of the pieces without sounding contrived or awkward.


Dave Sanborn’s authoritative solo on ‘Blues in Orbit’ set a precedent in the band for ‘preaching’ alto sax solos that would subsequently have Arthur Blythe and Chris Hunter in the role in later editions of the band. While Sanborn went on to fame and fortune as a crossover artist, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper gave no hint of the obscurity that would claim his career with standout work on ‘Blues in Orbit’ and ‘Cry of Hunger’. Svengali announced a sea-change in the direction of Evans’s work while also featuring among the most important recordings of the Seventies. It deserves a place in every collection of contemporary music. Stuart Nicholson