Music Monday: Bill Evans

I’ve been thinking about Bill Evans and his various trios a lot lately. In part, this is because a new live recording appeared this summer from Elemental Records called Behind the Dikes: The 1969 Netherlands Recordings, which as the title suggests documents shows played in Hilversum and Amsterdam in 1969. This album joins a quintet of recordings released by Resonance Records over the past few years (Live At Art D’Lugoff’s Top Of The Gate, Some Other Time (The Lost Sessions from the Black Forest)Another Time (Live At Hilversum 1968)Evans in England, and Live at Ronnie Scott’s). All these albums feature Eddie Gómez on bass and either Jack DeJohnette or, more frequently, Marty Morell on drums.

As someone relatively new to jazz and improvised music, Bill Evans’s career was largely overshadowed in my mind by this work with his classic trio of Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian in the early 1960s including his classic album Waltz for Debby (which derived from a series of sets recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 1961) or his work with Miles Davis (on Kind of Blue) or George Russell (especially on New York, N.Y. or Jazz in the Space Age). But as I explored his discography a bit more (and not at all systematically), I found myself drawn again and again to his recordings from the late 1960s. 

As I noted in my Music Monday post last week, I’m not very well-schooled in the theories behind jazz and improvised music and other than a brief time playing woodwinds in my teens and twenties, I don’t have no experience as a musician. For a long time, in fact, I had no idea what I was listening to when I listened to any music and I’m sure my more accomplished friends would say that this is still the case. That all said, one thing that listening to Evans’s late 1960s trio taught me was to appreciate the conversations between the musicians, particularly between Evans and Gómez’s “muscular” and (to my ears) confident bass. What makes this all the more clear is that the late 1960s recordings of the trio feature a fairly limited repertoire of both jazz standards and his own originals. As a result, it’s possible to hear the same songs played in different ways reflecting the their different contexts and the different moods of the trio on any given night. For example, I really appreciate the vigorous performances recorded in Evans in England which contrast with a more subdued and introspective (and even brooding?) set recorded in a studio in Villingen, Germany, Some Other Time. Maybe it’s the absence of an audience or the more subtle playing of a young Jack DeJohnette that gives this latter album its character, but despite having fairly substantial overlap with the setlist from Evans in England, it presents a significantly different vibe. Another enjoyable contrast is between the set recorded at Art D’Lugoff’s Top Of The Gate and those from Ronnie Scott’s that same year (and a year later on Evans in England!). It feels like his trio gains both confidence and, as a result, a willingness to explore more vigorously over the course of these two years. By listening to these albums together, even my relatively unschooled ear discovers a kind of intimacy and familiarity with the conversations taking place within the band.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s