Friday, February 27, 2009

Enrico Pieranunzi, Part 4 - "Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist"

[C] - Steven A. Cerra, introduction, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“When you have evolved a concept of playing which depends on the specific personalities of outstanding players, how do you start again when they are gone?” [Brian Hennessey, ‘Bill Evans: A Person I Knew,” Jazz Journal International, March, 1985, pp. 8-11].

“Scott was just an incredible guy about knowing where your next thought was going to be. I wondered, ‘How did he know I was going there?’” [Conrad Silvert’s 1976 insert notes to Spring Leaves Milestones M-47034]

“Ever since his early lyricism Evans had tended toward his natural introspection, and even when projecting strongly he seemed self-absorbed. His first thought was to play music that would satisfy himself, hoping meanwhile that his audience would meet him halfway. Whitney Balliett saw this as Evans’ personal dilemma, “a contest between his intense wish to practice a wholly private, inner-ear music and an equally intense wish to express his jubilation at having found such a music within himself.” [As quoted in Peter Pettinger, Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, p. 116].
In terms of how to sequence the presentation of material from Enrico’s book on Bill Evans, the Jazz Profiles editorial staff debated as to placing this next chapter as the close of Part 3, thus concluding that section with Scotty’s death and the end of the “First Trio.”

Instead, it was decided to open the 4th part of the piece with the "Gloria’s Step” chapter so as to allow for a smoother continuance between the parts and also to provide a segue into what came next for Bill, both personally and musically, after the loss of Scotty.

However saddened we were by the tragic loss of Scott LaFaro at the absurdly young age of 25, all of us who love the music of this version of Bill’s trio can take some comfort in the legacy of the two and a half hours of Scott’s genius that was left with us as encapsulated in the Sunday/Village Vanguard Sessions.

“Delving into the riches recorded … [that Sunday in July, 1961 at the Village Vanguard], we witness a certain apogee in the development of the jazz piano trio, the medium pursued by Evans for his lifetime achievement. For depth of feeling, in-group affinity, and beauty of conception with a pliant touch, these records will be forever peerless.” [Pettinger, p. 113].

And yet, as Pieranunzi points out in what follows, the loss of Scotty brought forward bassist Chuck Israel and the “birth” of the Second Trio, initially with Paul Motian, but ultimately with Larry Bunker on drums when Paul had had enough of the road and decided to leave the group.
Initially with Red Mitchell on bass and then for the last two weeks with Chuck Israels, Bill played the month of May at Shelly Manne’s Manne-Hole in Hollywood, CA essentially as a duo [with Shelly sitting in on occasion]. In looking for a permanent drummer for the group, Chuck Israels recounts the following story in his liner notes to Bill Evans Trio at Shelly’s Manne Hole [Riverside 487; OJCCD 263]:

“After a few nights, I got to talking with many of the Hollywood musicians who were coming in to hear us and I paid particular attention to the pianist, Claire Fischer, who kept insisting that the dapper, elegantly bearded man, who I had seen intently listening to Bill’s piano playing, was the most sensitive possible drummer for us to have and that I should persuade Bill to invite him to sit in. To say that the first experience of playing with Larry Bunker was revelation would only be half the story …. I smiled and Bill grinned broadly and Bill dug into play all the more and Larry was hired on the spot to finish the job with us. …" [Quoted in Pettinger, p. 147].
As his friend and my mentor, I am privileged to have a number of personal recollections that Larry Bunker shared with me about his time as a member of Bill’s trio, but before recounting these, let’s pick up the story of Bill and Scotty’s relationship and what was to come following Scotty’s death with this next chapter from Enrico Pieranunzi, Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist entitled:

Gloria’s Step
“Regarding the interpersonal and artistic relationship between Evans and LaFaro at the time, the pianist appeared even a bit irritated by the bass player's fiery nature. His desire to stay 'clean', and not mess around with dangerous experiments in drugs seemed almost to make Evans jealous: “Scott was in life right up to the hilt, he was intense in experiencing anything but bullshit, not wanting to waste time. He was discriminating about where quality might lie.” Concerning LaFaro's relationship with music, however, Evans added: “He didn't overlook traditional playing, realizing it could contribute a great deal to his ultimate product.”

Paul Motian recalled that the bass player “was practicing and playing all the time. ( ... ) His rate of improvement was so fast.” The great avant-garde pianist Paul Bley was later to observe that -"he was the only bassist in the world at that time who could play the melody to the complex charts.”

Evans himself found it amazing that LaFaro was so capable of intuiting where he was going, where his next thought was going to be. He wondered, “How did he know that I was going there.” LaFaro's explosive combination of talent, health and exuberant, almost defiant, vitality threw Evans off, putting him face to face with his own personal tragedy - his own human failure.

Evans admired the young man but, perhaps, envied a bit that self-confident unhesitating, doubt-free energy that LaFaro expressed both in his life-style and in his music.
The Village Vanguard Sessions well-illustrates the contrast between the iconoclast LaFaro and the introverted, subtly conservative Evans. The young bass player who lived life to the fullest “and tasted it down to the last drop wanted more than anything to take risks” (“I don’t like to look back because the whole point in jazz is doing it now.”) This he does with extraordinary results in All Of You, lingering a long time on a very dissonant minor second, that he "walks" confidently along the piece, refusing to stay consonant with the chord flow; or in Milestones, where LaFaro even succeeds in dragging Evans along on a couple of very daring excursions, from which the pianist withdraws immediately to go back to chiseling out his bewitching neo-Impressionistic harmonies. Also in this piece, the bass player seems deliberately to refuse to "walk" in 4/4 in the footsteps of Motian’s orthodox comping, preferring to depart with a solo line of his own that counterpoints what Evans' is doing with his piano. At the end of the tune, LaFaro fools around rather provocatively with some notes, to the laughter of the crowd, while Evans stays locked himself inside his dark, doubt-filled world.

“I never listen to the words of songs, I am rarely aware of them,” he told Len Lyons in a 1976 interview. Yet it seems somewhat more than a coincidence that the text of Detour Ahead contains expressions like “You fool, you've set off in the wrong direction,” “turn back while there's still time,” and “don’t you see the danger signs.” Detour Ahead, along with My Foolish Heart, My Man’s Gone Now and Porgy, is one of the ballads that Evans chose to play that evening. It is hard to imagine that this was a purely arbitrary choice. In fact, his interpretation of the song is a truly touching interaction with a tune which he had surely heard Billie Holiday sing, lyrics not excluded.
Other roads, with their hidden perils, were waiting to seal Scott LaFaro's tragic fate. At the end of those historic sets, as the three were leaving the Village Vanguard, he had spontaneously expressed with great joy to Motian and Evans, “these two weeks have been exceptional, I've finally made an album I'm happy with!” On the night of July 5 1961, ten days after that magical evening, while going home after a visit to a friend, and having ignored the urgings of pianist-composer Gap Mangione to stay over and leave the next day, he lost control of his Chrysler and went off the road into a tree. Both he and the friend riding with him were killed instantly.

This very gifted and unfortunate musician had, in a very short time, caused a complete revolution in conceptual/technical approach to bass playing. He blazed a new trail for the role of his instrument in small groups, expanding its solo possibilities through the exploitation of its upper register, the production of harmonics, the use of double and triple stops, and so on. Scott LaFaro's tragic death was a shock for Evans. A gray veil of sadness shrouded his already over-complicated existence, that “for several months went in a direction not at all constructive... musically everything seemed to stop. I didn't even play at home.”

Many years later, in 1984, the ever-zealous and thoughtful Orrin Keepnews published other takes from those extraordinary evenings. We find in these the same extremely high artistic level as those performances which even the exacting Evans had considered worthy of publication. These seven rediscovered performances are interesting for several aspects such as, in particular, a greater self-confidence as compared with those on the classic albums originally published from this concert. Perhaps this quality is related to the fact that Detour Ahead, Waltz For Debby, Jade Visions and Alice In Wonderland were revived in their first takes, all of them providing fresher interpretations than the previously published versions. It is as if, in approaching them, the three had experienced that higher intensity of emotion and concentration that almost always happens when you meet up with something that you have not handled for a long time finding it, therefore, somehow "new".

In other cases the opposite happens - as in All Of You, for example. The third take of this tune works better, more vigorous and appealing than the "classic" one, which was the second take played on that day. Here LaFaro's playing is more imaginative, provocative and audacious than ever, and Evans sounds more determined and energetic than usual. While the above-mentioned pieces betray a vague sense of boredom after all, repeating a piece after a very short time can, understandably, create a sense of deja vu causing a lowering of interest and a proportional increase in routine - surprisingly, in All Of You the reverse is true.

A key element in explaining this may be the presence in the audience of some fellow-musicians at the evening concert, who tacitly stimulated the three to perform at their best. In any case, these seven rediscovered pieces take nothing away and, if anything, only add to the magic of that special evening, highlighting, among other things, the enormous amount of propulsive energy that Motian was able to produce. He swings hard, chancing a more articulated multi-rhythmic approach than in the thirteen "classic" pieces. We feel, almost palpably, how that trio was a living organism: “a three-person voice as one voice,” Motian would say.

But now LaFaro was no longer there. That widening of musical horizons that the three had believed they could carry out together those concerts representing a first important leg of the journey - had been rudely interrupted.

The Second Trio
A musical dimension had now been added to Evans' existential disorientation. Almost like a delayed-action bomb, the effect of LaFaro's death brought Evans down not immediately but gradually, leaving him devastated and more and more isolated. It was the young bass player Chuck Israels, a contemporary and friend of LaFaro's, who would interrupt this process. Israels learned of Scott's death while in Italy playing in the "pit" at the Spoleto festival in an orchestra for a ballet by Jerome Robbins. Although deeply grieved by this loss, Israels felt that he was good enough to fill the position that LaFaro had left vacant. The young, enterprising bass player knew there weren’t many alternatives around for Evans and, besides, this was something that he had always desired.

There were, in reality, two other bass players with a solo style that had absorbed the LaFaro approach who were moving in a direction which could have made them appealing to Evans; but it wasn't easy to get to them. One was Albert Stinson, very young at the time, who was to emerge shortly in a group with Chico Hamilton and who, by an incredible twist of fate, would pass away in 1969 at the same age as LaFaro; the other was Steve Swallow who, in 1961, had been the bass player on George Russell's Ezz-thetics.

But Israels got the job and, in early '62, Bill Evans' "second trio" was born. He had more than a few doubts. With LaFaro the trio had reached such musical heights, in concept and performance, that going any further was almost impossible to imagine. Still Evans and Israels began to meet and play together, entering into a less than easy relationship that, nonetheless, slowly brought the pianist's musical life back into focus. In the autumn of that fateful 1961 he had recorded as sideman with singer Mark Murphy and vibes player Dave Pike. In December he took part, with Israels and Motian, on an album by flutist Herbie Mann. But he didn't feel ready yet to record with a trio. It wasn’t until May of 1962, with the gracious but firm insistence of Orrin Keepnews, that he agreed to enter the studio to record for the seventh time under his own name.
Israels, as compared with LaFaro, was another thing altogether. Although less spectacular (besides, who could ever have equaled that genius?) he proved, in his four-year collaboration with Evans, a remarkable musical intelligence, a highly developed capacity to deeply feel and interact with the expressive moods of his leader, and a solid, dynamic swing as well. These qualities contributed greatly to his overcoming Evans' doubts and put him back on the road to developing his trio. The group would never reach the peaks that it had with LaFaro, but often was to offer some very valid examples of a "modern" trio. The experimental approach of the period 1959-61 having already been tested and approved, Israels managed to place himself as one of the three voices of a group where interplay was by now common procedure. In spite of a lower degree of authority and rhythmic/harmonic audacity than LaFaro, Israels was capable of not limiting himself to the standard role of accompanist, and to not passively seconding what the pianist was doing.

Some even saw in the arrival of Israels the possibility for Evans to finally take the situation in hand and show the determination of a true leader; a strength that had previously seemed to emerge only in some of his performances as sideman (Russell's celebrated All About Rosie is a good example), and which LaFaro's fiery, irrepressible energy may somehow have impeded. Yet others believe, to this day, that Israels' parsimonious and ponderous style worked better for Evans than that of LaFaro, and that, beyond any doubt, the new collaboration with Israels produced superior artistic results. Both theories contain a grain of truth (even though, naturally, it would cast some shadow over the previous "happy marriage" with LaFaro).
Israels' playing, in fact, was essential, and never went out-of-bounds as LaFaro's could sometimes seem to go. He pushed Evans to tell his musical stories "completely', without interfering with them, and did not force the pianist in directions where, perhaps, he did not want to go at that particular moment. Precisely for this reason perhaps some of Evans' albums with Israels and Motian, or with Larry Bunker on the drums, reach artistic peaks just as high as those of his period with LaFaro. Of course, after LaFaro's death, the innovative impetus in which he had involved the reluctant Evans came to an abrupt halt. No link, not even an indirect one, existed between Israels and the most experimental expressions of the time (Coleman, Dolphy, etc.) The new bass player did not oppose Evans' conservative tendencies, on the contrary he adapted himself.

Bill preferred working with "structured" materials where, despite the formal limitations, there was also a feeling of safety. He was capable of identifying with a song as if it were part of himself, expressing through it his existential burden: an almost religious approach to music, as he would say to journalist Ralph J. Gleason in an interview: “Jazz represents the whole person, not just some particular part and there is a spiritual side and a practical side ... Maybe I do everything for music. I live my life for music, in a way.”

On the occasion of an inquiry by Down Beat into the state of the evolution, or involution, of jazz piano in the mid-70s, a rather irritated Evans said: “I get a little bit angry at people who worry about perpetual progress. The criterion for which a thing has to absolutely be "avant-garde" seems to have become almost a sickness... Who is the most modern?... I would like people instead to ask: who is saying the best thing? who is making the most beautiful music?”

We have already said that the avant-garde never attracted Evans, who may have been who knows? - less ill-at-ease with Israels than with a musician like Scott LaFaro with his overwhelming and somewhat inconvenient personality. The new trio, however, surely displayed reduced internal “tension.” According to Orrin Keepnews, “Israels probably had the type of personality that Evans needed next to him at that time. Chuck shook Evans up and lit a spark under him.” With LaFaro the trio had evolved “from almost zero to a complete idea, to a real trio 'concept’” which would never have been possible without him. “I didn't know what to do. Coming out of Scott's death was very hard. I hardly played any more, and I didn’t realize how far away I was getting from my music.”
But the twofold pressure of Israels and the state of his finances brought him back to music. He had no choice - he needed money - and his main point of reference was none other than Keepnews himself. He was constantly asking for advances and usually the producer gave in, but not without some compensation - and this meant recordings. The risk, of course, was a sort of unplanned, mass-production which neither of them, for different reasons, wanted, but the situation offered few alternatives. So 1962 ended as one of Evans' most intensely active years in the recording studio with him working hard to repay Keepnews' generosity. He heavily increased his compositional activity, to the extent that he would carry his music notebook with him at all times, where ideas and themes could be tossed down on the road or during breaks in club performances. Show-Type Tune was practically completed on a New York subway train.

On the albums that mark Evans' return to trio work (How My Heart Sings RLP-9473; OJCCD 369-2) and Moonbeams RLP-9428; OJCCD-434-2) three of his original compositions appear for the first time on a recording: Walkin' Up, a fast piece with harmonies not unlike those which John Coltrane had been exploring for some years; 34 Skidoo, in which, with a vaguely French dance-mood, three-time sections animated by a searching restlessness, alternate with others more static in four-time that seem to arrest that sense of cyclical loss", that dizziness, that certain waltzes have; and finally, Re: Person I Knew, a piece among the most representative of all Evans' production. Here, against a bass pedal that remains throughout the piece, Evans lets loose a series of scales that respond to one another in a question-answer/tension-rest dialectic.
This sequence of "modes" recalls some musical atmospheres of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (So What or Blue In Green), even though Evans is moving away from that "objective" and distant approach, going towards a narrative, autobiographical and tense framework. This song is part of that group of Evans' compositions (for example, Peace Piece) in which the harmony commands the melody, pieces that we could call "themes with variations". They lend themselves to a type of treatment that is closer to that used by Bach in his well-known Ciaccona, or by Chopin in his Berceuse, than to a (re)compositional process possible on the harmonic changes of a song. The harmonic sequences of this type of piece create a sort of hypnotic circularity which, because of its reiteration, is less subject to wide emotional leaps. In 1962, along with this intensification of his compositional and studio work, Evans' drug habit started to get really heavy. Gene Lees, his personal friend and supporter, tells of sordid scenes of his need for a fix, of the cynicism of the loan-sharks and dealers (one of whom was nicknamed "Bebop"), of the electricity being cut off for non-payment of bills. Ellaine, Evans' sweet girlfriend - strung out herself - made a desperate, fruitless, attempt to get Bill off dope by quitting first herself, going as far as to write up a pledge that she tried to convince Bill to sign. Evans lived through all this hell with an extraordinarily shocking lucidity; he knew perfectly well that this nightmarish experience was “like death and transfiguration.” “Every day you wake in pain like death and then you go out and score, and that is transfiguration” he would say: “each day becomes all of life in a microcosm.”

However, in the midst of all this darkness, a meeting was to take place in that year that would change his career. Lees had asked his girlfriend, Helen Keane, to consider becoming Evans' manager. At the time she was working on behalf of the singer Mark Murphy, and had had a part in launching the careers of artists such as Marlon Brando and Harry Belafonte. Lees invited Helen to hear Evans play and she was so deeply moved by what she heard -“Oh no,” she said, “this is the one that could break my heart” - that she immediately agreed to be his manager, becoming over the years one of the most decisive people in Evans' artistic career.
“[In 1962] Circumstances were forcing Bill to widen his sphere of musical activity. The trio was no longer the only group requiring his attention. In addition to his increased compositional activity, in July/August of 1962 Evans recorded two splendid quintet albums which were originally issued as a single LP called Interplay [Riverside LP 9445] and subsequently as a double LP entitled The Interplay Sessions, [Milestone 47055] and that later became the CDs Interplay [OJCCD-308-2] and Loose Bloose [Milestone 9200].

Bill chose which instruments there would be in each band using trumpet, guitar, and piano-bass-drums on Interplay and saxophone, guitar and the same rhythm section on Loose Bloose.
‘Who’ was playing on these dates is something that Bill kept closely in his focus as he was developing the music for these dates. The musicians common to both recordings, drummer Philly Joe Jones and guitarist Jim Hall, were Evans’ preferred performers on their instruments. The trumpet player on the first recording was the then emerging Freddie Hubbard, while on the second LP it was Zoot Sims who had risen to prominence as one of Woody Herman’s ‘Four Brothers’ at the end of the 1940’s.
The most relevant factor of these two albums lay precisely in Evans’ ability to match the material to the color and tone of the instruments that he had chosen for these sessions. Both albums highlight his talent as an arranger, one who is able to treat a small group like a big band. In some selections, the theme is presented by the trumpet and guitar using the latter as a sort of second horn; in others, the guitar is phrased with the other string instrument, the bass.

The order of the solos is sensitively conceived to avoid monotony. And, with this in mind, the instrument that states the theme at the beginning does not play it again at the end of the piece, thus maintaining a lively variety in tone color within each number.

From the point of view of Evans’ piano language, these albums marked a successful attempt at regaining that vitality and performing energy that seemed to be missing with his second trio [based on the preceding chapter, Pieranunzi seems to be referring to the trio in which Chuck Israels replaced Scott LaFaro with Paul Motian remaining as the trio’s drummer until her left Bill in Hollywood in 1963]. Working out of Philly Joe Jones’ generous rhythmic pulse, he recaptures in some solos that hard bopper verve demonstrated in New Jazz Conceptions and Everybody Digs Bill Evans. In particular, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams – a title which is perfectly appropriate to the difficult period in which Evans perhaps yearned to shed his problems and dreamed of a better life – there is an almost joyful simplicity in the phrasing. It is as if Evans was searching back in time for his personal ‘golden age’ when, as a teenager, he had discovered and learned to love Jazz.

The melodies of the album on which Hubbard plays are all from the late 1930s, and perhaps this is no accident. Evans up-dates them, inventing delightful, unpredictable and unconventional codas for each one – to the point that the ending of You Go To My Head sounds harmonically unresolved and erratic.

All things considered, Interplay is a very hopeful album. Furthermore, this being an occasion to lead a group larger than a trio, Evans does something really intriguing which is reflected in the two title-tracks, Interplay and Loose Bloose. In both numbers, the minor blues form is combined with an approach the pianist owed to his exposure to the music of Bach.
These two tunes are, in fact, very close in their construction to some of the great composer’s works: a sequence of tenths as played by the guitar and bass forms a calm and almost solemn harmonic framework while the melody unfolds in counterpoint to it.

Loose Bloose, written in the unusual key of E-Flat minor, also offers a demonstration of melodic daring uncommon to Evans. Here he makes use of often dissonant intervals which trace a flickering, zigzagging line by frequently zooming-out in wide leaps.

Less successful was his attempt at fusing classical procedures with an exclusively jazz context. Fudgesicle Built for Four [another of Evans’ pun titles obviously playing off the title of the song Bicycle Built for Two] is a real “fugato” where each of the four voices enters one after the other, according to the most rigorous imitative style.

The result is a very Dave Brubeck-like jazz, with a slightly pompous, tuxedoed “Modern Jazz Quartet” flavor, but unfortunately, the harmonic structure laid out by Evans for improvisation on the tune seems to inhibit the soloists.

Essentially, the Interplay album with Freddie Hubbard can be considered a hard bop release with Evans even dusting off a few Horace Silver type passages.
On the other hand, the Loose Bloose with the sensual and splendidly relaxed tenor sax of Zoot Sims evokes a decidedly “cool,” vaguely Tristano, atmosphere, especially when Evans assigns some lines to the sax/guitar combination creating a sound very close to the Konitz/Marsh/Bauer ensemble of Tristano’s best known recordings.

It is precisely Sims’ seductive instrumental tone that marks the expressive character of Time Remembered, a piece which Evans recorded for the first time in an August, 1962 session and which would always remain one of his most well-known and well-loved pieces.

Time Remembered introduced into Evans’ compositional work another important facet of his classical background: the subtle evocative/narrative flavor of post-Impressionism. In this uniquely lyrical composition it is the song, the melody that seems to push the harmony creating, especially in the third section, chord relationships highly unusual for the average jazz composition.

Thanks to the refined use of enharmonic links or what Bill Evans himself called ‘diminished relationships,’ tonalities far removed from each other find unexpected connections, creating in the listener a sense of surprise and discovery that, despite the slow tempo and softness of the piece, makes for an effect that is anything but static.

The narration unfolds in a vibrant and yet delicate atmosphere, reaching an artistic territory where division into musical genres no longer means anything – a silent, distant horizon that, in fact, is the ineffable psychic reality of “time remembered.”
Conversations with MyselfIn February 1963 Evans' extreme withdrawal into himself produced an album that was a hit with the critics. Conversations With Myself (which won the Grammy Award for best instrumental jazz performance of 1963; Verve V6-8526; CD 821-984-2) was made by over-dubbing three recordings of himself, thereby creating a sort of "three-pianist trio.”

This over-dubbing technique was not entirely new to jazz: Lennie Tristano, in fact, had done the same thing in the 1950s, causing no small stir among the critics at the time, The peculiarity of the thing spurred Evans, however, to clarify his intentions in the album's liner notes, in which he said that he considered that strange "trio" a ”group"; for all intents and purposes it was a collective improvisation. Naturally the album demonstrates Evans' great capacity to carefully balance the three piano parts, even though the impression of artifice and of "personal challenge" prevail throughout its artistic content which, once again, seems necessarily to come to the foreground in relation to the pianist's "dark side".

N.Y.C.’s No Lark is conceived as a sort of dirge-like song in memory of the young pianist Sonny Clark who, tragically, had recently died as a result of drugs. The agonizing atmosphere of the piece, constructed as a kind of heavy funeral march in which Evans, using Debussy-like harmonies, refers to the more hidden, destructive aspects of a city like New York which (and for Evans himself it was, unfortunately, the same story) could easily become a painful and oppressive place. However, beyond the virtuosity Evans showed in handling a decidedly complex musical situation and his ability to "orchestrate", it seems rather to represent a curiosity along his musical path than a significant point of arrival.
Three months later, in May of 1963, going along with Creed Taylor's often disputable taste, Evans recorded an album for MGM on which his performance consisted simply of playing famous Hollywood themes according to the most banal and simplistic parameters of elevator music. Despite the slick presentation in the liner notes (“Evans can explore a pop tune and give it a dignity and meaning it never received before”), the album collapses into a completely conventional, commercialized product, whose total disengagement was in deep contrast with the constant appeal to beauty that Evans was always making in his statements. Evans restricts himself to playing the melody of the pieces in the most pedestrian way imaginable, succeeding in coming dangerously close, if not in fact crossing over, into the style of sequined ballroom entertainers. Evans, aware of this self-annihilation and, disturbed by the whole thing, thought at first of hiding behind his Russian name, but after releasing the album he rationalized that “if this record could have done something for widening my audience, getting better distribution for my other records, I'm all for it. Because it's a cold, hard business.” His hopes of making money, however, didn't pan out but somehow, perhaps in spite himself, he managed to avoid ruining his artistic image forever. The brilliant arranger Claus Ogerman had been brought in for the occasion, and would go on to work with Evans on various other recording projects, the most successful among which the album Symbiosis in 1974.

At the end of May, 1963 Evans gave a concert at the newly-opened club Shelly's Marine Hole [Riverside RLP-9487; OJCCD 263-2] in Los Angeles. On this occasion the pianist agreed to try out Larry Bunker, a Californian drummer - but also a very good vibes player - who before then had done both studio work as well as jazz activity of a very high level, playing with greats such as Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan and Peggy Lee. Bunker was an able drummer in his use of the brushes and quite sensitive in listening to his two partners. His swing was incisive and his cymbal work combined both precision and imagination. Evans was impressed and hired him for his trio.
The live album shows an Israels clearly evolved, compared with the shy bass player of "Moonbeams" and "How My Heart Sings" of the previous year. The trio seemed to have found a new equilibrium, with Israels and Bunker maybe not exactly "flying", but deep enough to give Evans the solid, calm, supportive tranquility he needed. His repertoire in those years remained more or less static. He composed very little, performing, at least up until 1966, his compositions previous to 1962, along with standards and pop songs, every now and then adding on a new one. Only occasionally did he take on the blues (the splendid Blues in F and Swedish Pastry on the live album at Shelly's Manne Hole, for example), reinforcing his image as the introverted, romantic and solitary musician.
Something noteworthy was happening in those early 60s: Evans music was settling down into something less audacious than what he had done with Miles Davis or Scott LaFaro while, at the same time, his fame was growing, almost as a delayed reaction. As clear proof of this fact, in 1964, deposing the perennial Oscar Peterson, he was voted best pianist in the Down Beat critics' poll. Unfortunately, in the same year his long-lived collaboration with Paul Motian came to an end.

As a kind of farewell, the drummer left a last taste of his enormous personality and creativity on the album Trio '64, which included the extraordinary, barely more than 30-year-old, Gary Peacock on bass. Motian felt that the trio's music had become static, “tired", no longer innovative, even retrogressive (put more drastically, “cocktail lounge music),” and this album proves he was right. Evans' interest in interplay, in the breaking down of the rhythmic/harmonic confines in jazz language, seems here to have completely vanished.
However, Peacock is revealed as the real possible successor to LaFaro. His solos are daring excursions, in which the given harmony of the theme does not serve for "agreement" but for opposition. His irrepressible energy seems, as had happened with LaFaro, to make Evans uncomfortable, who goes off into a corner to listen to his partner's exuberant soloing, almost incredulous at so much iconoclastic vitality.

On Trio '64 [Verve CD 815-057-2] Evans seems to refuse any compliance with Peacock as well as with the ingenious, unconventional initiatives of Motian. He keeps himself shut away in his reassuring world of sound and does not risk encounter with what his two partners are saying, Even Evans' proposal of a lighter, even playful, repertoire (Little Lulu and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town), a sort of way to musically translate his penetrating and sedate humor, and an attempt to give a witty and joyful image to his music, is unable to make the session an artistically successful one. And so, this album turns out to be a missed opportunity, one which would never be repeated. That kind of dialogue, which had been arrested back on June 25th 1961, would never be fully embraced by Evans again. Motian went on to dispense his genius among the likes of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett, to then expand his musical quest both as composer and as band leader in the mid-1980s and through the 90s.
Peacock, after his brief stint with Evans, joined Albert Ayler and Don Cherry, two of the most outrageous representatives of the jazz scene of the mid-1960s. By the mid-60s Evans was beginning to be more visible on the European scene. In 1964, along with Israels and Bunker, he made a successful tour of Scandinavia, where over the years he was gaining increasing fame and popularity among jazz fans. The following year he went to France, where he would return many times and where his art has continued to be highly appreciated. The assistance of Helen Keane, by now his artistic "counselor" in addition to being his manager, was starting to bear fruit. Thanks to her Evans was able to win himself an affectionate audience at a time when the prevailing trends in jazz were going in a completely different direction, and in which the dominant and most influential figure on the scene was still that of John Coltrane.

The recordings he was making with Israels and Bunker in those years were of uneven quality. The performance modules of the three had crystallized into a tension-free approach which was naturally affected by Evans' aesthetics and choice of repertoire. "Trio '65 [Verve CD 314 519 808-2]" is by far the most representative product of this period. Here Evans recorded, for the first time, a song that he had recently discovered, Who Can I Turn To?, which he seems to mold into a composition of his own. One of the album's peaks is his interpretation of Monks 'Round Midnight, which he "Evansizes", entering with authority and delicacy into a world he had always deeply admired.
Much less successful, however, from an artistic point of view, was the album of Evans' trio with the symphony orchestra directed by Claus Ogerman. The bright idea of having a jazz trio perform selections from the European classical repertoire, rearranged for the occasion, was touted with triumphant promotional declarations by its author Creed Taylor. It seemed that the impossible had been done and the jazz/classical opposition had been overcome. In reality, the experiment, in this instance, was an unhappy one. Paradoxically, it was not in the explicit blend of the two musical languages where Evans produced his best, but rather when his classical background unconsciously melded with his capacity to improvise and with his acute sensibility for shaping music. [emphasis mine]. Therefore, this performance, once again designed for commercial purposes, ends up sounding like an example of late Third Stream with all the limits of authenticity that afflicted its worst works. The orchestral treatment, and especially Ogerman's formal concept, was without depth or imagination, and even Evans' exquisite My Bells suffered considerable damage.”

... to be continued in Part 5.

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