Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bill Evans - Piano Player

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Sooner or later, it seemed that many of the major Jazz artists of the 2nd half of the 20th century recorded for Columbia.

Some, like Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Erroll Garner had extensive catalogues and were with the label for many years while others like Mulligan, Monk and Mingus had only the occasional fling with the label.

Pianist Bill Evans falls into the later category of short-lived stays having spent the majority of his career with Riverside and Verve before moving onto Milestone and Warner Brothers Records later in his career until his death in 1980.

Bill only did two recordings for Columbia: The Bill Evans Album [CK 64963] and Bill Evans - Piano Player [CK 65361] from which this piece derives it names.  The latter, one of the lesser known Evans recordings, was advertised by Sony Music Entertainment when it released the album on CD in 1998 as follows:

Assembled by Evans' veteran producer, multi-Grammy winner. Orrin Keepnews, and with new liner notes by Eddie Gomez, BILL EVANS: PIANO PLAYER will provide ample cause for celebration among his many fans the world over. It's also a first-rate introduction to an artist who continually gains new adherents.

To expand a bit on the last sentence from the Sony media release, it could reasonably be argued, as Orrin Keepnews his first producer at Riverside Records has stated: “that Bill Evans is the most widely influential of all improvising pianists. Certainly he's the most often imitated. Only Bud Powell, the fountainhead of bebop piano (and a major influence on Evans) comparably affected the work of his fellow pianists.

Almost two decades after his death (in 1980 at 51), a small army that numbers the brilliant likes of Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett has derived some measure of their keyboard approach from Evans' lyrical conception.

At the heart of his crepuscular, introspective style was The Sound —or, more accurately, the touch (and the way he used the piano's sustain pedals) that produced the indelible, crystalline sound.

For sheer beauty, it is without equal. And jazz players on all instruments have been to one degree or another shaped, or at the very least, profoundly moved, by the inner voicings of his pellucid chords, his free, but in no way cacophonous rhythmic sense, and his deep-song balladry.”

However. Evans' ability to swing was at one time questioned in some quarters. This is, of course, absurd, but if there's anyone left who doubts his proficiency at propelling the beat, proceed to All About Rosie, the introductory track on the CD.

One of eight previously unreleased numbers in this collection, All About Rosie  from 1957 is an orchestral suite by composer George Russell, one of modern music's keenest minds. In the third section. Evans' right hand unfurls lines that make for a rhythmically impelling, tension-building masterpiece.

Russell’s piece attracted a good deal of attention, both as performed at an early Third Stream [formed by combining Classical Music with Jazz] concert organized by Gunther Schuller at Brandeis University in Boston and through an LP recreation of the event - The Birth of Third Stream [Columbia Legacy CK 64929].

Its highlight was a remarkable Evans solo in the composition’s third movement. This is not that solo, because the performance here is from an earlier take, recorded ten days earlier and never previously issued. I have no idea what dissatisfaction with ensemble playing in this or other movements led someone to record again: I do know that this particular Evans solo is a masterpiece that was housed in the vaults until Orrin Keepnews uncovered it and included it in Bill Evans - Piano Player [CK 65361].

This set also captures Evans' poetic ballad-playing on "My Funny Valentine"— recorded live in 1958 when he was near the end of a nine-month stay with the great Miles Davis sextet—as well as two standout tracks from vibist Dave Pike's long-deleted 1961 LP, PIKE'S PEAK.

But the headline news is the six November, 1970, duets (featuring four Evans originals) with virtuoso bassist Eddie Gomez, who's 11 years in closely knit support of the pianist makes him Evans' collaborator of longest standing.  These performances were recorded six months before Evans began a brief association with Columbia. The final exultant selection, "Fun Ride" (also by the pianist), adds longtime drummer Marty Morrell and is from one of the dates that yielded The Bill Evans Album [CK 64963].

Here are some comments from bassist Eddie Gomez from the insert notes to Bill Evans - Piano Player [CK 65361] about the magic of working with Bill Evans after which you’ll find a video that features Bill stunning solo on All About Rosie [3rd Section].

“Bill's music is profoundly expressive. It is passionate, intellectual, and without pretense. Eleven years with his trio afforded me the opportunity to perform, record, travel, and most importantly learn. My development as an artist is largely due to his encouragement, support, and patience. He instilled confidence in me, while at the same time urging me to search for my own voice and for new ways to make the music vital and creative. And Bill believed that repertoire, both new and old, would organically flourish in repeated live performance. In fact, there were precious few rehearsals, even before recording sessions. …

When Bill passed away late in 1980, it was clear that all of us in the jazz world had sustained a huge loss. I was shocked and saddened; in my heart I had always felt that some day there would be a reunion concert. Had I been able to look into a crystal ball and foresee his death, perhaps I might have stayed in the trio for a longer period. I still dream about one more set with Bill. He closes his eyes, turns his head to one side, and every heartfelt note seems etched and bathed in gold. How I miss that sound.”







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