Bill Evans – The Complete Fantasy Recordings – Fantasy FAM 37012-02/ Concord Music Group – 9-Disc CD Set + 61-page booklet [7/31/15] ****1/2:
(Bill Evans – piano; with Tony Bennett – vocals; Kenny Burrell – guitar; Eddie Gomez – double bass; Philly Joe Jones; Lee Konitz – alto saxophone, Marty Morell – drums; Eliot Zigmund – drums; Harold Land – tenor saxophone; Wayne Marsh – tenor saxophone)
Few pianists have had the impact of Bill Evans. His uncanny interpretive skills, trend-setting waltz time signatures and phenomenal skills changed the face of jazz. He eschewed rehearsal and was comfortable with a wide variety of musical structures. Despite a corrosive drug addiction, Evans achieved a stellar recording and live performance career that spanned decades. His legacy continues thirty-five years after his death.
Concord Music has released a 9-CD box of Evans’ 1970s catalog. Bill Evans – The Complete Fantasy Recordings is a substantial compilation of the pianist in a variety of formats, including vocal accompaniment by Tony Bennett. Specifically, there is an abundance of live material. Disc I (or Session I) is a performance recorded in Tokyo (1973). It represents the exceptional chemistry that Evans had with band mates Eddie Gomez (double bass) and Marty Morell (drums). From the lyrical nuances of “Mornin’ Glory” and “Yesterday I Heard The Rain”, the players interact with intuitive acuity. On standards like “My Romance” (with a bowed double bass and drum fills) or “On Green Dolphin Street” Evans injects complex rhythmic passages and connects with the trio. This album (Live In Tokyo) was nominated for a Grammy.
Session II (same lineup) features a performance at Shelly’s Manne-Hole in Los Angeles. It is no less formidable with waltz-time bravado (“Up With The Lark”), harder bop (“Gloria’s Step”) and signature Evans’ eloquence that segues into finger-snapping jams (“Sareen Jurer”, “It Amazes Me”, “Midnight Mood”) that showcase the virtuosity of the legendary pianist. This trio’s catalog with Fantasy concludes with Session III, culled from Village Vanguard concerts. “Alfie”, “Blue Serge” and “Re: Person I Knew” are among the many highlights.
Disc 4 includes material from the initial Fantasy sessions. A rare electric piano number (with Eddie Gomez only) kicks things off. The whimsical “Hi Lili, Hi Lo”, and unusual (for Evans) “Saudade do Brasil” are followed by several Tony Bennett vocals. Evans was an unabashed admirer of Bennett and he is an extraordinary accompanist. Several classics and a version of “Waltz For Debby” are explored with creativity. Returning to live dynamics Evans (with Gomez) is brilliant on Disc 5. His ruminative tonality imbues tracks like “Milano”, “But Beautiful” and “Monha”. Up tempo covers and originals like “Django”, “I Love You”, “Venutian Rhythm Dance’ and a surprisingly percolating take on “Make Someone Happy” are equally prominent.
Many great jazz pianists demonstrate an ability to transform popular music. Evans does this with flair on cuts like “What Kind Of Fool Am I” and “People”. He deconstructs melody, but captures the inherent stage attitude of the pieces. A too-short medley of “But Not For Me”/ ”Isn’t It Romantic” is touching. Disc Six shifts into quartet mode. Harold Land (tenor saxophone), Kenny Burrell (guitar) Ray Brown (double bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) combine in an unforgettable array of songs. “Sweet Dulcinea” is fluid, ¾ time swing with mellow transitions. Pure swing defines the unique re-working of “Second Time Around”. Hot jazz licks pervade “Bass Face” and “Nobody Else But Me”.
Another “supergroup” emerges on Discs 7 and 8. Wayne Marsh (tenor saxophone), Lee Konitz (alto saxophone) Eddie Gomez (double bass) and Eliot Zigmund (drums) glow on intricate arrangements like “Eiderdown”, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and “Pensativa”. The quartet breathes new life into Kurt Weill (“Speak Low”), Victor Young (“When I Fall In Love”) and Cole Porter (“Night And Day”). Evans’ meditative version of Burt Bacharach’s “A House Is Not A Home” is timeless. Jazz aficionados will appreciate the fascinating technical interviews (e.g. he preferred songs in E and A) by Marian McPartland (from her Piano Jazz series) that comprise the final CD of this box set. “Reflections in D” is simply amazing.
Bill Evans – The Complete Fantasy Recordings is a treasure. The original studio aesthetics have stood the test of time. The anecdotal notes by Gene Lees are informative. The music sounds vibrant and precise. His greatness is on full display.
Disc 1: Mornin’ Glory; Up With The Lark; Yesterday I Heard The Rain; My Romance; When Autumn Comes; T.T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune Two); Hullo Bolinas; Gloria’s Step; On Green Dolphin Street
Disc 2: Up With The Lark; Quiet Now; Gloria’s Step; When In Rome; It Amazes Me; Since We Met; Midnight Mood; See-Saw; Elsa; Sareen Jurer; Time Remembered; Turn Out The Stars; But Beautiful
Disc 3: Re; Person I Knew; Sugar Plum; Alfie T.T.T.; Excerpt From Dolphin Dance/Very Early; 34 Skidoo; Emily; Are You All The Things; Invitation; Blue Serge; Show-Type Tune; The Nature Of Things
Disc 4: Are You All The Things; A Face Without A Name; Falling Grace; Hi Lili, Hi Lo; Gone With The Wind; Saudade do Brasil; My Foolish Heart; The Touch If Your Lips; Some Other Time; When In Rome; We’ll Be Together; Young And Foolish; Waltz For Debby; But Beautiful; Days Of Wine And Roses
Disc 5: Elsa; Milano; Venutian Rhythm Dance; Django; But Beautiful; Minha (All Mine); Driftin’; I Love You; The Summer Knows; In A Sentimental Mood; The Touch Of Your Lips; In Your Own Sweet Way; Make Someone Happy
Disc 6: All Of You; What Kind Of Fool Am I; People; Since We Met; But Not For Me/Isn’t It Romantic/The Opener; Sweet Dulcinea; Martina; Second Time Around; A Child Is Born; Bass Face; Nobody Else But Me
Disc 7: Sugar Plum; Time Remembered; 34 Skidoo; T.T.T.T.; Turn Out The Stars; Someday My Prince Will Come; Minha (All Mine); All Of You; Waltz For Debby; Eiderdown; Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye; Pensativa
Disc 8: Speak Low; When I Fall In Love; Night And Day; I Will Say Goodbye; Dolphin Dance; Seascape; Peau Douce; Nobody Else But Me; I Will Say Goodbye (Take 2); The Opener; Quiet Light; A House Is Not A Home; Orson’s Theme
Disc 9 (Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz Interview): Kaleidoscope; Waltz For Debby; All Of You; In Your Own Sweet Way; Reflections In D; I Love You; The Days Of Wine And Roses; This Is All I Ask; While We’re Young