Explorations: BILL EVANS Trio
Bill Evans (p) Scott La Faro (b) Paul Motian (drs)
New York City; February 2, 1961
Israel (6:08) (John Carisi)
Haunted Heart (3:25) (Deitz – Schwartz)
Beautiful Love (5:03) (Gillespie – King - Van Alstyne – Young)
Elsa (5:05) (Earl Zindars)
Nardis (5:48) (Miles Davis)
How Deep Is the Ocean? (3:30) (Irving Berlin)
I Wish I Knew (4:39) (Gordon- Warren)
Sweet and Lovely (5:50) (Arnheim – Tobias – Lemare)
The appearance of a new album by BILL EVANS is always a rare event. The word “rare” has several meanings, but the dictionary on my desk links together the first two of them in a way that tells the story exactly as we mean it to be understood: “(1) not frequently found; scarce; uncommon; unusual; therefore, (2) unusually good; remarkably fine; excellent.”
The excellence of this lyrical and probing young pianist and the great value of his explorations of the modern jazz idiom have gradually become among the more solidly accepted jazz facts of our times. Fellow musicians, as is usually the case, were the first to realize just how uncommon a talent Evans possesses. As an indication of the strength of his appeal, note that these musical Bill Evans fans are a most varied group. Bill has worked with Tony Scott and Don Elliott, and spent most of 1958 as a member of Miles Davis’ group; all are now strong and outspoken pro-Evans men. Avantgarde composer-bandleader George Russell has long been one of Bill’s most ardent supporters. When we sought signed tributes to underline our title claim (for a 1959 album) that “Everybody Digs Bill Evans,” we were surprised at how easy it was to find them. Not only men who had worked with Bill, like Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis (whose “I sure leaned a lot from Bill Evans” surely stands as one of the most direct compliments Miles has ever issued), but top name pianists Ahmad Jamal and George Shearing were quick to provide praise. And the names cited here are but a fraction of the full list you could gather if you wanted a petition signed, for example, in favor of legislation making it illegal not to dig Evans.
The critics do not always fall into line with musicians’ opinion, as we all know, but I can think of no recognized writer in the field who has not solidly aligned himself in the Evans camp. The best single indication of overall critical opinion is undoubtedly the Down Beat “International Critics Poll.” In both 1958 and ’59, Evans was a clear choice as New Star pianist; in 1960, no longer eligible for the “new” category, he was ranked third among all pianists.
The approval of the jazz public tends to be somewhat slower in expressing itself, but it too has come along. If you take polls as an index, Evans was ranked sixth among pianists in the Down Beat readers poll in ’59 and rose to fifth in 60s, and as high as second in the 1960 Metronome poll, out-voted in such cases only by such well-established favorites as Garner, Monk, Silver, Peterson. And on the club-going level, the Evans trio heard on this album played highly crowd-pulling engagements from New York to San Francisco early in 1960, was sidelined later in the year by a siege of illness that took Bill off the scene for a few months, and then began ’61 with a successful tour of the Midwest.
The other “rare” aspect of the pianist’s work is of course a matter of the relative infrequency of his visits to the recording studio. Bill’s first album was made for Riverside in September of 1956. His second was recorded some 27 months later. The reason was simply that Evans did not feel, during the intervening period, that he had anything new to say. (The fact that we and his various adherents disagreed violently with this negative opinion had no affect on him at all.) It took another full year to bring about a third album, and although by this time Evans was somewhat agreeable to a more ‘normal’ recording pace, circumstances helped bring about a time lag of slightly more than a year between “Portrait in Jazz” and the present LP. As we have commented before, this unhurried (and unhurriable) approach, in an era when many less substantially talented artists seem almost to have taken up residence in recording studios, is a really major rarity.
But once again an Evans album proves to be well worth having waited for. His highly sensitive analyses and reworkings of these eight varied selections are clearly the work of a significant, provocative and most enjoyable artist. The thirty-one year old, New Jersey-born musician remains a highly self-critical musician, but the severe standards he sets for himself generally lead (when he finally agrees, usually rather reluctantly, that he has made an acceptable ‘take’ of number) to rich rewards for his listeners.
Taking advantage of the closely-integrated support of his colleagues – Paul Motian and the strikingly imaginative Scott LaFaro – Bill indulges in two instances in one of his favorite challenges to himself, using tunes that have become almost hopelessly hackineyed through over-frequent playing (How Deep Is the Ocean; Sweet and Lovely) and extracting remarkable and unsuspected freshness from them. He deals also with three other standards: al lovely, neglected Arthur Schwartz show tune, Haunted Heart; an intensive reshaping, in ballad tempo, of I Wish I Knew; and another of his surprising essays into unsuspected territory, a swinging version of the preciously saccharine old-timer, Beautiful Love (in the “Portrait in Jazz” album, Bill did a comparable rescue operation on Some Day My Prince Will Come, from Disney’s “Snow White’!).
The non-standard tunes include the debut of Elsa, a moody, tender composition by Earl Zindars; Johnny Carisi’s robust Israel (first recorded on Miles Davis’ late-‘40s “Birth of the Cool” date and too infrequently attempted since then); and Miles’ own difficult and Oriental-favored Nardis. This late tune was written for Cannonball Adderley’s first Riverside album; Bill played it then and has remained intrigued by it. As performed here, it also features an unusual LaFaro bass solo.
Throughout, Evans displays his distinctive and intriguing ‘trademarks’: the long, flowing lines of his solos, and his rich piano sound. These explorations bring to bear on this material the several major factors in Bill’s style: his intelligent, articulate approach to jazz; his capacity for great warmth and beauty (I doubt that anyone else today treats a ballad as well as Bill does – gently, but entirely without syrupiness); his well-schooled technique;’ and his never-failing ability to swing. It adds up to a combination that is indeed rare.
Previous BILL EVANS albums are –
Portrait in Jazz (RLP 12-315; Stereo RLP 1162)
Everybody Digs Bill Evans (RLP 12-291; Stereo RLP 1129)
New Jazz Conceptions (RLP 12-223)
He is heard with CANNONBALL ADDERLEY on –
Portrait of Cannonball; with Bill Evans, Blue Mitchell (RLP 12-269)
(The present recording is also available in Stereophonic form on RLP 9351.)
Produced and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photograph by STEVE SCHAPIRO
Recording Engineer: BILL STODDARD (Bell Sound Studios)
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on HYDROFEED
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.