Of all Gil Evans' orchestral scores for soulmate Miles Davis, PORGY AND BESS is his richest and most ambitious–a watershed of modern jazz harmony which served to secure Davis' pop star stature and define his brooding mystique. Inevitably, even non-jazz listeners own a copy of PORGY AND BESS or SKETCHES OF SPAIN.
Like MILES AHEAD, Evans' band on PORGY AND BESS de-emphasized the traditional reed section in favor of a tuba, three French horns, two flutes and two saxophones. The resulting chords and overtones are dark, alluring and mysterious. Thus the opening brass-cymbal bluster of "The Buzzard Song" gives way to a mid-eastern carpet of flutes and deep brass as Davis' poignant trumpet speaks in split tones and yearning cadences, bursting with blues feeling; a tuba soon picks up the theme as muted trumpets are followed by tolling trombone/French horn chords.
With the release of the spectral title tune, and the efforts of the Columbia marketing and publicity departments behind him, a thirty-year old Miles Davis entered into a period of extraordinary artistic maturity and growth. And Miles instinctively knew how to cultivate his star quality. Looming behind those shades, was the diffident, sensitive anti-hero–proud and defiant–who only spoke to his audience through his horn, and turned his back on them when the other soloists were blowing. The combination of attitude and intellect was irresistible. Beginning with ROUND ABOUT MIDNIGHT and proceeding through a remarkable succession of famous recordings over the next 30 years, Miles Davis became one of the greatest soloists, arrangers and talent scouts in the history of American music. People who didn't own a single jazz record came to know his name–Miles was a jazz icon.
If I rate Get Up With It a five, or maybe Live/Evil, or Big Fun, or On the Corner, fives, or maybe even Sketches of Spain, a five, or Kind of Blue, then I guess this is a three and a half, or a four, so I give it a four, as if this were American Bandstand. But it's a Miles Davis record. If it's Miles or Coltrane, or, oh I don't know, Poulenc, perhaps people could "check themselves" just a bit. Man With the Horn is a fine record, a bridge in some ways, if you will, between some of the pre-electric Miles, as "jazz," and the psychedelic fusion, and then the later fusion funk. Man With the Horn is precious to me, and not enough people appreciate it, in my opinion.
"Tomes are available annotating the importance of this recording. The musical and social impact of Miles Davis, his collaborative efforts with Gil Evans, and in particular their reinvention of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess are indeed profound. However, the most efficient method of extricating the rhetoric and opining is to experience the recording…." ~AMG