Rhinegold Photo credit: German Hasenfratz (Courtesy of Andreas Brunner-Schwer)

Andy Hamilton

Newly discovered Bill Evans trio recording released on disc

2:17, 9th November 2016

A previously unissued studio recording made in 1968 has turned out to be a vivid and compelling account of the creative genius of Bill Evans at the height of his powers. Andy Hamilton is enthralled by this newly discovered snapshot from jazz history.

First released on the non-profit specialist jazz label Resonance Records in 2012, Bill Evans’ album Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate has sold over 30,000 copies worldwide. For jazz in the download era, this remarkable figure shows the appeal of the music’s most enduringly influential pianist. I state this advisedly: Bud Powell and before him, Nat Cole, founded modern jazz piano; McCoy Tyner was for some time their most influential successor. But Evans’ personal appeal continues to grow, and now exceeds Tyner’s.

Through a language of harmonic sophistication unparalleled in jazz piano, involving a radical exploration of rootless voicings, Evans became a ‘poet of the keyboard’, re-composing the repertoire of Tin Pan Alley and jazz standards. He drew on the European heritage in jazz as much as – though not more than – the African-American one. The qualification is essential. Miles Davis rebutted with characteristic bluntness the criticisms of his new pianist’s European tendencies – just as Fletcher Henderson had defended Lester Young’s cool style, when he nonetheless had to fire him because of rebellion among the hot players.

PIC 2 Bill Evans Some Other TimeNow, Resonance is releasing a previously unissued studio recording under the title Some Other Time, and it deserves to repeat and exceed the success of Top of the Gate. It is the most important Evans studio discovery in more than a decade, featuring a trio that existed only for six months in 1968: bassist Eddie Gomez stayed with Evans for many years, but drummer Jack DeJohnette moved on. The trio made a few live recordings, notably Live at Montreux 1968 and a Secret Sessions date at New York’s Village Vanguard; but this is their only known studio date – where tuning, miking and acoustics can be more closely controlled – made by legendary jazz producers Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer and Joachim-Ernst Berendt at the Black Forest studio of MPS (Musik Produktion Schwarzwald).

Evans was signed to Verve at the time, and so the recording was not released. By 2004, all the principals except Gomez and DeJohnette had died. On a visit to Germany in 2013, Zev Feldman of Resonance heard about it from Brunner-Schwer Jr. Now, after agreeing terms with Gomez and DeJohnette, the album has finally been released in its entire 94 minutes.

You won’t find the sustained exuberance of the wonderful Live at Montreux 1968. In the extensive sleeve notes, Gomez comments that the studio date had ‘a whole different vibe… maybe because there’s no audience’.  Meanwhile, DeJohnette remarks that Evans’ playing is ‘a little stronger than normal’, and some tracks are high-energy. Apart from the aborted solo, ‘It’s Alright With Me’, all have that understated tensile strength and penetrating interpretation of Evans at his finest. The drummer also remarks on how the pianist’s arrangements – as opposed to improvisations – stayed fairly constant, with the rhythm team injecting variety.

Evans clearly loved the repertoire of standard songs that jazz drew from Tin Pan Alley – that incredible efflorescence of popular American musical art from the 1920s to 1950s. The interpretation of ‘You Go To My Head’ is incisive and hard-swinging, and Evans hurries a little into his solo. ‘It Could Happen To You’ – completely unhurried at mid/uptempo – is a gem, a characterful re-composition whose tinkling octaves at the start and finish suggest the ringing church bells in the lyrics. Evans was also brilliant at finding material from the pop music of his day: ‘You’re Gonna Hear From Me’ is a mid-60s hit by André and Dory Previn that he’d been performing since 1966.

Many standards are not common Evans choices; ‘These Foolish Things’ is his first recording, ‘It Could Happen to You’ and ‘You Go To My Head’, his second. ‘What Kind Of A Fool Am I?’, with its percussive, even hyper, solo and corny ending, perhaps satirises the Sammy Davis hit by Bricusse and Newley. The interpretations of his own compositions ‘Very Early’, ‘Walkin’ Up’ and ‘Turn Out The Stars’ are among his finest.

Evans’ greatest trio – and his freest – was his early one with bassist Scott La Faro and drummer Paul Motian; it is generally agreed that La Faro was his most inspirational bassist. This recording doesn’t alter that consensus. La Faro’s early death in a car accident was one of the most tragic early losses in jazz, and had an incalculable effect on Evans. Gomez is in the exuberant, guitar-like style of La Faro, without that last fraction of melodic genius.  Nonetheless, after the dates with La Faro and with Gary Peacock, Some Other Time ranks among the most compelling of Bill Evans’ studio recordings.

Bill Evans: Some Other Time – The Lost Session From The Black Forest
Bill Evans (pf); Eddie Gomez (string bass); Jack DeJohnette (drums).
Resonance HCD-2019. www.resonancerecords.com

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