Bill Evans – Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate (1968) – Resonance Records (2 CDs)

by | May 10, 2012 | Jazz CD Reviews

Bill Evans – Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate – Resonance Records HCD 2012 (Recorded 10/23/68) – CD 1: 49:12; CD 2: 40:50 [6/12/12] *****:  
(Bill Evans, piano; Eddie Gomez, acoustic bass; Marty Morell, drums)
Just a few months ago, Resonance Records released rare Wes Montgomery recordings from Indianapolis that pre-dated Montgomery’s first album issues. That CD was historically significant as it revealed that Montgomery’s masterful finger picking talent was already in full bloom as early as in 1957.
Now Resonance is back with another significant achievement, two previously unreleased live sets from Bill Evans in his prime. Recorded on the evening of Oct. 23, 1968 at the Top of the Gate, the upstairs venue of the Village Gate club owned by Art D’Lugoff, we get the privilege of hearing Evans interact with bassist Eddie Gomez, who was into his second year of an eleven year residency with Evans. On drums, Marty Morell, was a new addition to Evans’ trio, having just joined Bill earlier in the month. You’d never know that Morell had not been with Evans for years as his transition was flawless, and he is fully in control of setting the pulse for the trio.
The New York jazz scene in the late 60s was more than vibrant as downstairs at the Village Gate, the headliners that same evening were a double bill of Thelonious Monk and Charles Lloyd. (A jazz junkie could have had quite a special evening staying in one building alternating between these dream groupings…)
What makes these two live sets even more attractive are the marvelous acoustics made possible by George Klabin, then a 22 year old engineer, and now the president of Resonance Records. Klabin had separate mikes on each instrument, and used a massive Crown two-track tape recorder, along with four microphones, a single Ampex 4-input tubed stereo mixer, assorted cables and mike stands, and a Beyer stereo headset for monitoring. The recording was live direct-to-stereo mix with the piano in the center and the drums split left, and the bass split right. Klabin goes into greater detail in the liner notes provided. Suffice it to say, the acoustics are superb and easily exceed any live recordings of the period. You absolutely feel you are in the room and any audience distractions are minimal.
The set list for the evening is made up of standards, with the only Evans’ original being “Turn Out the Stars,” which closes out the first set. There are three tracks that are performed in both sets: “Emily”, “Yesterdays”, and ‘Round Midnight”. You, therefore, have the opportunity to hear Bill interpret each of these classic compositions with spur of the moment differences. For collectors of Evans’ material, it should be noted that we get to hear the first documented trio recordings of “My Funny Valentine” and “Here’s That Rainy Day.”
Evans’ trios were not content to have the bassist and drummer simply keep time (comp), but they are active participants – particularly the bassist – and they truly communicate with Bill, and add to the improvised mood with  solos. I felt this particularly on “Yesterdays,” where Gomez digs in and you can marvel as his fingers fly over the neck of the bass while Evans re-harmonizes the melody.
As an avid listener, you can know these standards as played by other pianists and trios, but listening to Evans, Gomez, and Morell, you become lost in the reverie of their interpretations with chords seeming to float in the air to be absorbed into your subconscious. Gomez and Evans become as one entity, shadow boxing with each other. They are much the same as an intimate couple who can communicate and commiserate without words being exchanged. Simply stunning…
Evans’ long time manager, Helen Keane, made a wise move allowing George Klabin unprecedented access for a live recording. Over forty years later, we are the lucky beneficiaries of this brilliant recording of an evening with one of Bill Evans best trios.  The superb liner notes, in a 28 page booklet, include reminiscences from jazz critic Nat Hentoff, vibist Gary Burton, and Gomez and Morell, are in addition to numerous archival photos by noted photographers.
Resonance will also be pressing 3000 hand numbered 3-LP 180 gram vinyl box sets pressed at 45 RPM with mastering by Bernie Grundman. [Similar to what was done with the Web Montgomery album…Ed.]  The entire package can be downloaded digitally, as well, with an e-booklet. In whatever format you choose, this is a must purchase for fans of Bill Evans!
CD 1: Emily, Witchcraft, Yesterdays, ‘Round Midnight, My Funny Valentine, California Here I Come, Gone With the Wind, Alfie, Turn Out the Stars
CD 2: Yesterdays, Emily, In a Sentimental Mood, ‘Round Midnight, Autumn Leaves, Someday My Prince Will Come, Mother of Earl, Here’s That Rainy Day
—Jeff Krow

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