Everything on the stage at Kings Place on Sunday had taken time. A lot of it. Writing lyrics to every note of the whole Miles Ahead suite; extracting them from Jon Hendricks’ head, notating and arranging them; a choir that can make the sound of a perfectly blended string section or the stabbing riffs of a horn section; it all takes a lot of time. Years. The reviews are popping up of the evening and the music. John Walters’ account is hard to beat – giving the achievement due recognition in its vivid detail. This is a response more than a review.
When the now nonegenarian Jon Hendricks was nearing the completion of his self imposed, 50 year undertaking of setting lyrics to every solo, slur and nuance of every arrangement of Miles Ahead the reaction of his daughter Michele was ‘Who’s gonna sing this stuff?’ History doesn’t record the reaction of the musicians when first presented with Gil Evans’ score for Miles Ahead at the original recording session Posterity and critical acclaim have assured the result’s place in jazz history. On stage, behind Michele on Sunday at Kings Place was the answer to her question (gleefully pointed out by Pete Churchill):The London Vocal Project. Pointing to Pete she cried ‘.. this guy made it happen!’ It was impossible to listen without the knowledge of all that had led up to this. all that commitment, creativity and effort focused into forty odd minutes: sure they’ll do it again, yes they’ve been recording, but they’ll never do it again for the first time in London, here, now.
A wild imagining? A crazy dream? A magnificent obsession? Surely Hendricks’ idea was all of these. The story of the last six years of Pete Churchill’s work with Hendricks’ to complete the job, work with the choir, premiere the work in New York and now bring it back to London is well told elsewhere . We got a little taster three years ago one special Sunday at Ronnie’s.
And then the finished article was performed, with a copy of the vinyl original ceremonially in attendance on the stage and the choir fronted by Hendricks’ daughter Michele, Norma Winstone and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke singing Miles’ solos.
And Hendricks’ lyrics.
And then it was just about the music. And the sound.
I can still feel the swell of the arrangement in My Ship. I can still hear the horn stabs in Blues for Pablo. I can still here that very last chord, like a sigh.
And I still love that line from Maids of Cadiz – ‘If you would know what beauty is’