‘There is drama in the playing and in Bill’s mind’

Elemental Records 5990445

Bill Evans (piano); Chuck Israels (bass); Larry Bunker (drums)

Recorded August 1964

Bill Evans (piano); Eddies Gomez (bass); Mart Morrell (drums) on ‘Round Midnight’

Recorded December 1969

It is always a pleasure to review an album prepared by Zev Feldman. He discovers jazz which for various reasons has been hidden away. The whole presentation is scholarly, enclosed in contents that are illuminating and treat jazz not just as a product but as an art form. The music is surrounded by essays, interviews, data, everything that will enhance the appreciation of the music. The essays and interviews illuminate and often are almost as interesting as the music itself.

With this album the Zev Feldman high standards are in evidence. The notes contain interviews with Brandyn Bunker, the widow of Larry Bunker, an essay by Marc Myers and a frank interview with Chuck Israels who describes how his style of playing differs from Scott LaFaro.

In the Marc Myers interview, Israels describes how Paul Motian did not appreciate his playing. ‘Our playing styles were different, and Paul was not as comfortable with mine as he was with Scotty’s. Israel had the unenviable task of replacing LA Faro in the trio. He states that his immediate aim was to fill the gap. He points out that LaFaro had a busier style and a closer dialogue with Evans. Israels gives an insight into the way that he worked with Evans in the Trio, pointing out that Evans leaves the bass notes out and concentrates on the middle and upper notes, leaving the bassist to supply the missing ingredients.

The recording quality is good and that is essential in an Evans’ trio album, where the pianist is a first among equals. Capturing the woody quality of the bass and the singing of the strings and the subtlety and fluidity of the precision drumming is essential.

The two versions of ‘My Foolish Heart’ are heavy with regret. They are quintessential Evans. The elegant playing, the intensity and the sensitive accompaniment from Chuck Israels ensures that the version has depth. The exquisite timing enables you to hear how Israels fills in the bass notes, completely at one with Evans.

There is drama in the playing and in Bill’s mind, but it is the drama of the softly spoken, the erudite, the exquisitely impassioned. The date, 1964, is important, it was too soon for Evans to be routine. There is the intensity here. This is the trio working abroad for the first time. Evans was delighted with European audiences because they listened intently.

The innovative and expressive use of harmony, melody, and rhythm: all present with the chords and complex voicings and extensions. Many critics have commented on the sound that Evans obtains from the piano. Peter Pettinger in his biography of Evans ‘How My Heart Sings’ believes that Evans’ playing stance influences the sound: ‘Quality of tone was produced by arm weight, fingers were naturally bent for maximum articulation, forearms horizontal for greatest ease of lateral movement. The trunk, shoulders, arms, and wrists all functioned together as an ever-adapting set of shock absorbers behind the fingertip action. When block chording, his left hand looked as though it was cushioning the rhythms of the right.’

The complex opening to ‘How My Heart Sings’ (version 2) is an example of the kind of counterpoint that is seized on by the bass player and the drummer who contribute to the quiet exhilaration.

The playing of ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ is a unique event: it is the first and only recording of the piece. Evans is famous for the restricted library of tunes that he used so it is fascinating to hear a rarity. Listening to Evans playing behind the bass solo after the mid-tempo introduction is, in its quiet way, thrilling.

The two versions of ‘Sweet And Lovely’ are different. The tempo is raised for version 2. Larry Bunker alternates between brushes and sticks and in version 1 he exchanges musical thoughts with Evans. Chuck Israels contributes thoughtful variations on the original tune. Evans’ pianistic technique on both versions is impressive and fluid.

‘Five’ is a jaunty jokey piece and has a feeling of humour not often associated with Evans.

‘Round Midnight’ was recorded in 1969. It is a different trio, a different Evans. The intensity reduced. The playing of Gomez is more assertive not as light, there is heaviness and a feeling of predictability about the note choices. Morell’s feathery drumming seems routine. With Evans there are unexpected hesitations: the usual flow is interrupted.

The recordings were set down nearly sixty years ago and they have aged well. They enable us to hear the unique qualities that Evans brought to jazz.