May 24, 2024

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CD review: Bill Evans Trio – San Francisco, 1975 – 2022: Video, CD cover

One of the most influential pianists over the past 50 years, Bill Evans pioneered a new direction in jazz that emphasized harmonic extrapolation and an exquisite, walking-on-eggshells sensitivity more so than the macho, two-fisted, blues-based swinging style of the previous generation of players. Evans’ crystalline, Erik Satie-inspired approach to the keyboard would have a huge impact on generations of players who followed in his wake, including Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Denny Zeitlin, Steve Kuhn, Marc Copland, Richie Beirach, Fred Hersch, Michel Petrucciani, Bill Charlap, and Brad Mehldau.

A former member of the Miles Davis sextet (his presence on the landmark 1959 recording, Kind of Blue, is most striking on pieces like “Blue in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches”), Evans made a strong impression with his first trio, which included the innovative bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. Their 1961 live Sunday at the Village Vanguard set the standard for interactive trio work and is still regarded as a jazz classic. Tragically, LaFaro was killed in a car accident 10 days after that historic session.

There followed of succession of rhythm tandems until Evans found another inspired pairing in 1968 with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, who remained together for seven years. By early 1975, Morell left the trio and was replaced by Eliot Zigmund, who appears on this September, 1975 concert at the Great American Music Hall.

The pianist is in superb form here. And the formula throughout this set is remarkably the same—Evans begins each piece with an introspective solo piano extrapolation on a theme, followed by a near-telepathic mingling by the three kindred spirits, usually involving intricate counterpoint lines from Gomez and perhaps a virtuosic bass solo to boot. The melodies are gorgeous, the vibe precious, the interaction uncanny.

They open with “Sareen Jurer,” a rarely performed number by the American composer (and Evans confidant) Earl Zindars. Following an exquisite solo piano intro in which Evans demonstrates the delicate touch of an Erik Satie, the trio embarks on the haunting minor key waltz-time melody which is underscored by Zigmund’s supple brushwork and fortified by Gomez’s bold and busy counterpoint lines. As the piece picks up steam, Zigmund switches to sticks and provides a swinging momentum for the highly interactive trio. Gomez’s extraordinarily facile solo on this number perfectly demonstrates why he is regarded as one of the finest post-LaFaro virtuosos on his instrument.

The pianist’s lengthy (a full 3:30) and rhapsodic piano intro to the poignant “Since We Met” gives a clear indication of where Keith Jarrett may have derived his singing quality on the keyboard. Gomez is again a featured soloist on this delicate number (the title track of Evans’ 1974 live at the Village Vanguard recording for Fantasy Records), demonstrating his uncanny lyricism in the high register on the upright bass. “Time Remembered,” another Evans original from Since We Met, opens with a brief, introspective solo piano before the trio heads into an intimate three-way conversation. Zigmund’s approach on the kit here is strictly as percussive colorist while Gomez counters Evans’ insistent chordal work with bold, complementary ideas on the bass. His virtuosic arco work here is a highlight of this fragile offering.

The trio’s extrapolation on the jazz standard “How Deep is the Ocean” features some dazzling dialoguing between Evans and Gomez along with a particularly expressive bass solo underscored by Zigmund’s delicate touch with brushes. Evans’ lilting waltz number “Very Early” is one of his more famous compositions (introduced on 1963’s Conversations with Myself and recorded later that year with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian on Trio ’64). As the gentle piece shifts to swinging 4/4 momentum midway through, Gomez’s insistently walking bass lines drive the track before he launches into another stunning solo. They follow with a gorgeous take on Tadd Dameron’s ballad “If You Could See Me Now,” which develops into another showcase for Gomez’s fulsome tone with the mid-range punch and his deftly syncopated ideas behind Evans and Zigmund. They close with a jaunty, up-tempo rendition of “A Sleepin’ Bee,” a Harold Arlen tune with lyrics by Truman Capote that showcases a side of Evans that some of his fans are not aware of. Spurred on by Zigmund’s incessant swing factor on the ride cymbal and Gomez’s rambunctious counterpoint lines on the bass, Evans burns with boppish conviction here, reflecting the influence of his early piano heroes like Bud Powell and Nat “King” Cole. Gomez turns in yet another outstanding solo to put an exclamation point on this spirited set-closer.

As profoundly focused and in control as Evans sounds on this extraordinary performance from September, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall, he would only have five more years to live. Plagued by a heroin and cocaine addiction throughout his career, the great pianist and composer died in 1980 at age 51.

Born on August 16, 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey, Evans began piano lessons by age six and later attended Southeastern Louisiana University, where he studied music theory, played flute in the marching band, and also played quarterback on the school’s championship football team. After graduating as a piano major in 1950, he toured with Herbie Fields’ band before being drafted. Following three years in the service (he was placed in the Fifth Army Band near Chicago), Evans moved to New York in 1954 and began playing in clarinetist Tony Scott’s quartet while pursuing postgraduate studies at Mannes College, where he met and began collaborating with composer-theoretician George Russell. By 1956, Evans recorded his first album as a leader, New Jazz Conceptions (Riverside), which included one of his best-known compositions, “Waltz for Debby.”

In the spring of 1958, the pianist began an eight-month tenure with the Miles Davis Sextet, where his delicate touch and European harmonic sensibility (inspired by such French impressionists as Debussy and Ravel) help forge a new musical direction for the enigmatic trumpeter and bandleader. Though Evans left Davis’ sextet by the autumn of that year, he put his stamp on Miles’ epochal 1959 recording, Kind of Blue—the biggest-selling acoustic jazz album of all time—particularly on the atmospheric tracks “Blue in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches,” which were both imbued with a kind of Zen-like delicacy by the pianist.

Beginning in December 1958, Evans combined forces with the astounding young bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian in a near-telepathic trio. On the strength of such successful Riverside albums as 1958’s meditative Everybody Digs Bill Evans, 1969’s Portrait in Jazz, and especially 1961’s Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Evans became a bona fide jazz star. Sadly, only 10 days after a landmark live session at the Village Vanguard in June 1961, LaFaro was killed in an auto accident at age 25. Shattered by the tragedy, Evans went into seclusion for almost a year. His first recording after LaFaro’s death was his classic duet album with guitarist Jim Hall, Undercurrent, which was recorded in two sessions on April 24 and May 14, 1962 for the United Artists label. After signing with Verve later in 1962, Evans was encouraged to record in a variety of settings, which led to sessions with Gary McFarland’s big band, saxophonist and labelmate Stan Getz, singer Tony Bennett, and a full orchestra performing the arrangements of Claus Ogerman. He also recorded the experimental Conversations With Myself, which utilized multiple overdubbed piano parts, a first for Evans.

With the emerging jazz-rock scene, Evans dabbled in some Rhodes electric piano recordings in the 1970s. He had begun playing with Puerto Rican bassist Eddie Gomez in 1966, and two years later they were joined by drummer Marty Morell. This trio remained a solid working unit for the next seven years, until Morell retired from the music scene. After Morell left, Evans and Gomez recorded two duo albums, Intuition and Montreux III. In early 1975, the vacant drum chair was filled by New York native Eliot Zigmund, who would remain in the Bill Evans Trio for two years. Evans’ last trio, consisting of bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe La Barbera, remained together from 1978 to 1980.

Evans died on September 15, 1980 from a hemorrhaging ulcer and bronchial pneumonia. During his lifetime, Evans was honored with 31 Grammy nominations and seven awards. He was named to Down Beat’s Hall of Fame in 1981 and in 1994 was honored posthumously with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.

01. Sareen Jurer
02. Since We Met
03. Time Remembered
04. How Deep Is the Ocean
05. Very Early
06. If You Could See Me Now
07. A Sleepin’ Bee
08. Turn Out the Stars
09. One for Helen
10. Up with the Lark
11. Blue Serge
12. Twleve Tone Tune
13. 34 Skidoo
14. Quiet Now

Recorded live at the Great A.M. Music Hall, S.F., 1975

Bill Evans, piano
Eddie Gomez, bass
Eliot Zigmund, drums

In SF 1975: Music

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