Evans’s piano playing explores an inner world where everything makes sense and is pristine and beautiful
Copenhagen Jazz Festival, October 31, 1965, recordings – Bill Evans (piano); Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (bass); Alan Dawson (drums)
Slotsmarksskolen, Holbeek, November 28, 1965, recordings – Bill Evans (piano); Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (bass); Alex Riel (drums)
Orchestral Suite – Bill Evans (piano); The Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra, Danish Radio Big Band
Trio – Bill Evans (piano); Eddie Gomez (bass); Alex Riel or Marty Morell (drums)
Too aptly named, Treasures is an archival release featuring recordings that pianist, composer, and musical icon Bill Evans made for Danish radio between 1965 and 1969. The performances with two different trios, two orchestras, and Evans solo at the piano all display his masterful musicianship and perceptive ears.
These recordings capture the trios at the height of Evans’s foray into leading a trio that listened and responded to each other rather than the supportive musicians leaning back and accompanying the piano. That result is music that is brilliant and alive five decades after the fact.
Treasures is a feast for the ears and can serve as either a reminder of or an introduction to Evans’s musical depth and vision. Regardless of the band format, this collection’s music is heady, emotional, and beautiful.
Bill Evans’s approach to the piano was harmonically complex but so beautiful that every song flows like water, ever refreshing the listener’s ears. Despite the music’s rigid structure, the precision with which Evans played allowed for emotional intensity to burst from the music in and between every note.
Evans’s piano playing explores an inner world where everything makes sense and is pristine and beautiful. The emotion in his playing comes from that inner world exploration as his fingers match the tone of his piano keys to each emotion his quest uncovers.
‘Come Rain or Shine’ opens with a piano flourish so alive one almost doesn’t care whether the main melody ever arrives. The notes tumble over each other without ever losing their clarity and articulation. The trio keeps up and decorates and never gets in the way, and the song ends as beautifully as it begins. ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ states the melody, then takes off into the eddies and streams that emanate from it.
Bass and drum solos don’t distract but ass energy to Evan’s precious as he dissects and reassembles the Disney/Larry Morey and Frank Churchill classic. Evans takes the melody on ‘Who Can I Turn To’ and dives in. Evans seems not to distinguish between notes and chords; they are all a means of expression and reflections of each other.
One of Evan’s most well-known songs, ‘Waltz for Debby’, is achingly beautiful and playful even when the band picks up. On some of his piano runs, Evans’ sounds like he has changed his mind and pursued another approach, but he makes it sound reasonable and planned.
As with so many great jazz pianists, there is a thin line between Jazz and classical music in their playing, and nowhere is this more accurate than in Evans’s playing.
While he always keyed his playing to fit his environment – quartet, trio, or even orchestra – his solo playing allows us to soak in his brilliance in one sensitive yet commanding cascade of notes after another. ‘Re: Person I Knew’ displays Evans’s left-hand playing spare partial chords that march up and down the scale as his right hand deftly picks out notes that shimmer, dance, and sound even more lively than his solemn left hand.
It’s as if his piano talks to two versions of the person he knew. It’s a rare musician who can embrace other emotions in the same song. With Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ – Evans’s approach is drier and more introspective yet keeping the spirit of Monk’s original. His embellishments even seem more reserved, but still, The song turns in on itself repeatedly.
‘Time Remembered’ (alternate) has notes chasing after each other without losing their sense of order. Evans’ left hand takes a similar approach to ‘Re: Person I Knew’, doubling as a rhythmic and progressively harmonic device.
On listening, it seems that Evans regarded the orchestra no different than his trio – they were fellow musicians to hear, listen to, and respond to. ‘My Bells’ begins with an orchestral overture with an arpeggiated harp that dramatically swells and flows, then lands as Evans and Danish Radio Big Band take the melody and dance with it; this song is based on the chords Evans wrote for the Miles Davis classic, “So What,” but the song goes in a completely different direction with the orchestra gently underpinning the trio across the piece. Evans’s chord choices at the end echo the orchestra’s opening well before giving way to its symphonic closing.
In the orchestral version of ‘Time Remembered’, Evans’s piano pairs with the orchestra; the only difference is the timbre of individual instruments as they function as extensions of each other. Listening to the trio on this version, Evan’s playing responds by adding more bounce, which speaks to bass and drums and takes nothing away from the emotion he displayed in his solo version of the song.
On the standards ‘Stella by Starlight’ and ‘Autumn Leaves’, Evans, and his trio, including his long-time bassist Eddie Gomez crackle with sparks and life, the trio members taking their place as genuine contributors to the song as it unfolds. Gomez is spectacularly adept at providing the bottom of that Evan’s left-hand harmonies suggest.
Bill Evans is well established in the jazz firmament, and the treasures on this recording are a testament to his lofty placement.
They illustrated how committed he was to furthering his music and ensuring he was focused on the interplay and dynamics that his fellow musicians deserved so that his music shone, whether in a trio or with an orchestra. Treasures is a reference work for Bill Evans’ music’s ongoing vitality and vision.