Notes and Editorial Reviews
BILL EVANS: THE SESJUN RADIO SHOWS
Bill Evans (pn); Eddie Gomez, Marc Johnson (db); Eliot Zigmund, Joe LaBarbera (dr); Toots Thielmans (harmonica)
T2 2011005 (2 CDs: 127:26) Live: Laren 12/13/1973, 2/13/1975; Lelystad 12/6/1979
This has to be one of the most treasurable of Sesjun Radio Show releases, as it features the greatest pianist in modern jazz. Bill Evans, particularly in terms of harmonic construction, was the most advanced and influential pianist in the last half of the 20th century, a musician held up to almost divine status by
fellow musicians, and his penchant for couching his advanced harmonies in a tonal-sounding framework (even when the pieces were written on a 12-tone row) also made him one of the most popular. (The few times Evans played really “out there,” as on the George Russell albums
New York, N.Y., Jazz in the Space Age,
listeners stayed away in droves.) He quit briefly in the early 1960s after his beloved bassist, Scott La Faro, died in a car crash, and for years thereafter only recorded solo or with orchestral accompaniment. In the late 1960s, again feeling comfortable playing in a trio format, he formed a new group with the superb Eddie Gomez on bass, and this is the group heard on CD 1.
Evans also wrote a fair number of pieces, most of which have become jazz standards. With the exception of
Waltz for Debby,
most of them are here:
Up With the Lark, Time Remembered, Two Lonely People,
Blue in Green.
His 12-tone pieces are here, too:
12-Tone Tune Two
). These pieces in particular, and the way he improvised in general, led classical pianist Glenn Gould to dub Evans “the Scriabin of jazz.” In the first set from 1973, Evans dispenses with drums entirely, playing duos with Gomez. The bassist’s penchant for playing in the upper reaches of the instrument almost gives the effect of a cello in places, and without drums both musicians are able to play a somewhat more elastic rhythm without ever getting in each other’s way.
On the first number in the set with the full trio,
Evans starts out completely solo for several choruses. Zigmund’s drums are so lightly played as to almost sound like an afterthought. (The few listeners who dislike Evans complain of his low-key musical presence and the very light beat he generated; they feel he was more of a cocktail pianist than a jazz musician.) Indeed, so zoned in and calm is Evans’s jazz that a great many listeners felt that it drew them in like a form of meditation, all of which belied his troubled personal life and his on-and-off drug addiction. He was on heroin for years, then moved back in with his parents and kicked the habit, but then his former wife, Elaine, committed suicide (she threw herself under a subway train) and he went back on it. Evans tried a methadone cure, had a brief and ill-advised second marriage, but was back on drugs by the end of the 1970s, this time cocaine. The trio’s performance of
in fact, is one of the liveliest performances here, full of energy and taken at a brisk clip. Gomez, too, is particularly excellent here, improvising at double speed and doing so with an astounding flow of ideas.
At the time of his last set at Sesjun, in December 1979, he was in marvelous form despite the cocaine addiction. Cees Schrama, who co-produced these sessions, asked manager Helen Keane for permission to release it as an album, but she said “No, don’t release anything! We’re recording the same musicians at another night during the tour.” She didn’t know that Bill would be dead within the year. This trio is entirely different; Gomez is gone, replaced by Marc Johnson, and the excellent Joe LaBarbera is on drums. It’s not surprising that Schrama wanted to release this session; it’s clearly the best of the three. Evans is in particularly great form, not only inventive but also exceptionally lively—listen to his playing on Dameron’s
If You Could See Me Now
and especially Richard Rodgers’s
Johnson follows Evans wonderfully well, but is not as consistently strong or original a soloist as Gomez, though he does have his moments. Evans plays most of Miles Davis’s
as a solo, and in this track especially he goes really deep into harmonic and rhythmic changes, completely transforming it into a structure of astounding complexity—at times, his only tenuous hold to the original melody is in the bass line, not the treble. Here, too, Johnson is inspired to his finest solo in the set.
The second set on this date includes harmonica player Toots Thielmans. You might think such a pairing antithetical to Evans’s aesthetic, but apparently he enjoyed Thielmans; he did make at least one issued album with him. Also unusual in this set is the inclusion of a pop tune by Paul Simon,
I Do It for Your Love.
And yet, everything falls into place and works well. I suppose I had forgotten just how good an improviser Thielmans was, or perhaps Evans inspired him to his peak. In any case, Toots sounds uncommonly good in Evans’s
Blue in Green.
The Days of Wine and Roses
is more common fare for the harmonica player, as of course is his own hit tune,
but even here Evans pushes him into startlingly new harmonic directions. Here, Thielmans almost sounds like Sonny Rollins in his complexity of line and harmony. (I’ve always felt that Rollins and Evans were well suited to complement and spur each other, and I’m incredibly sad that they never, to my knowledge, played together.) As it turns out,
I Do It for Your Love
is so transformed that I’m not sure that Simon himself would recognize it if he started listening in the middle.
after the initial theme statement by Thielmans, is taken by Evans into wilder, more swinging realms; Johnson’s solo here is also inspired. The final number, Evans’s
also jumps with unexpected energy.
In short, this is an outstanding album, and for Evans fans a necessary complement to his other late recordings. Was he really only 51 when he died? We were robbed!
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
1. 1 Up With The Lark
1. 2 Time Remembered
1. 3 Ttt (Twelve Tone Tune)
1. 4 The Two Lonely People
1. 5 Some Other Time
1. 6 Sugar Plum
1. 7 Sareen Jurer
1. 8 Morning Glory
1. 9 Tttt (Twelve Tone Tune Two)
1. 10 Blue Serge
2. 1 If You Could See Me Now
2. 2 My Romance
2. 3 Laurie
2. 4 Nardis
2. 5 Blue In Green
2. 6 The Days Of Wine And Roses
2. 7 I Do It For Your Love
2. 8 Bluesette
2. 9 Five Read less
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