BILL EVANS TRIO: MOONBEAMS
Bill Evans (p) Chuck Israels (b) Paul Morian (drs)
Re: Person I Knew (5:42) (Bill Evans)
Polka Dots and Moonbeams (4:57) (Burke – Van Heusen)
I Fall in Love Too Easily (2:39) (Styne – Cahn)
Stairway to the Stars (4:48) (Parish – Malneck – Signorelli)
If You Could Seem Me Now (4:24) (Tadd Dameron)
It Might as Well Be Spring (6:03) (Rodgers & Hammerstein)
In Love in Vain (4:56) (Kern – Robin)
Very Early (5:04) (Bill Evans)
This album represents two firsts for Bill Evans. It is the first recording of the trio he has led since Chuck Israels replaced the late Scott La Faro at the beginning of 1962; and it is this first all-ballad collection.
These two circumstances interact to produce some interesting results. It is inevitable that a trio such as Evans’ – subtle, complex, and tightly knit – would shift in emphasis with any change in personnel. La Faro was an extraordinarily dominant bassist in a way that Chuck Israels does not attempt to be. Israels, who has played for such diverse contemporary pianist as Bud Powell, Cecil Taylor, Don Friedman and George Russell, tends to sublimate himself to the pianist, whereas La Faro and Evans often played what amounted to duets. The result of this change is a fascinating one. In 1959, when Evans was still perhaps better known for such things as his remarkable solo on George Russell’s All About Rosie than for his own LPs, Martin Williams wrote that “there is an easy but forceful terseness in the playing of Evans the sideman that Evans the leader is not always in touch with.” That was, I think, an accurate remark then, and remained so until the death of La Faro forced Evans to dominate his own group.
Prior to that time, there was a strange dichotomy in Evans’ work. The force he was capable of as far back as the middle fifties was replaced, on his own recordings, by a wistful impressionism, that, charming and delicate as it was and is, seemed to be coming from an altogether different pianist than the one who had been functioning as a sideman. Eventually, the reputation as a player of ballads began to outweigh the former one.
It would be good news at any time to learn that Evans had recorded an album of ballads, because he is one of the most sensitive interpreters of slow and lyrical tempos in jazz, and has been widely recognized as such. But this album would seem to have come along at a particularly fitting time. For here one finds (on Stairway to the Stars, for example) that the muscular force that made his up-tempo work as a sideman so notable has now become an integral part of his ballad playing, giving him the delicate strength of silk thread. Whether or not this is actually due to Israels’ presence, is, of course, a matter of sheer speculation, but the new quality is there, and it makes Evans a more impressive pianist than he has ever been before. Emotions and impressions which once seemed almost too delicate and ephemeral to be captured by tape are now firmly and forcefully stated.
One thing Evans has always done superbly is choose material, and he has done that again here. Of the eight pieces played, only two have much currency among jazz musicians. One of these, of course, is Polka Dots and Moonbeams. The other comes from within jazz and is one of the loveliest ballads ever to do so, Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now. Probably Evans was moved to include this piece when he recorded it shortly before these present sessions as a member of the Tadd Dameron Orchestra on “The Magic Touch” (Riverside 419). The performance with Dameron, incidentally, offers a rare glimpse of Evans in the role of vocal accompanist. Stairway to the Stars and It Might As Well Be Spring are both among the most durable standards we have, but neither has been widely employed as a jazz vehicle. I Fall in Love too Easily is, unfortunately, considerably less well-known, and In Love in Vain is one more example of Evans’ seemingly inexhaustible capacity for finding and reintroducing songs that one assumed everyone had unaccountably forgotten.
There are also two Evans originals. The title of Re: Person I Knew is an anagram referring to the producer of these sessions, and contains an inaccuracy in tense (“knew” for “know”) in order to make it come out right. The piece itself, which has no such problems in coming out right, is a modal one. In that sense, it might be said that Evans’ habit of nodding in Miles Davis’ direction once in every album has been continued, for he first became involved in the possibilities of that form of expression while working with Davis.
Evans is unique both as a composer and player of waltzes, and proves it again, simultaneously, with Very Early. Unlike many musicians, he is not at all tempted to turn 3/4 into something hard or harsh, but chooses to concentrate on the possibilities for delicacy.
These remarks have contained no mention of drummer Paul Motian, which is in itself a tribute to his skill, for he is more felt than heard on these tracks, thus allowing the quiet subtlety of the other two players to proceed unimpeded. That Evans is quiet and subtle, while having found a new force in his playing, provides the unusual combination of qualities that makes this album completely fascinating beneath the surface of one of the most highly enjoyable piano ballad sets in a very long time.
Previous BILL EVANS on Riverside include –
Waltz for Debby (RLP 399; Stereo 9399)
Sunday at The Village Vanguard (RLP 376; Stereo 9376)
Explorations (RLP 351; Stereo 9351)
Portrait in Jazz (RLP 315; Stereo 1162)
Everybody Digs Bill Evans (RLP 281; Stereo 1192)
New Jazz Conceptions (RLP 223)
Produce by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording engineer: BILL SCHWARTAU (Sound Makers Inc. New York City)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photo by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York