Bill Evans – The Sesjun Radio Shows (2 CDs) – 60:58/66:28 – Out Of The Blue /T2 Entertainment PRCD2011005 [Distr. by Naxos] ****1/2:
(Bill Evans – piano; Eddie Gomez – bass; Eliot Zigmund – drums; Marc Johnson – bass; Joe LaBarbera – drums; Toots Thielmans – harmonica)
Bill Evans’ career was meteoric, capturing the attention of critics. A devoted fan of Bud Powell, his debut (as a band leader) New Jazz Conceptions (1956) was received with enthusiasm. He formed a trio with Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motian (drums), and recorded several influential albums. He achieved renown as a member of Miles Davis’ band, contributing as a composer to the Kind Of Blue sessions in 1959. He was that rare musical phenomenon that redefined a genre. More importantly, he cast a formidable shadow over future jazz pianists. His uncanny ability to combine intellectual acumen with spiritual depth of feeling raised a bar that has yet to be reached…much less surpassed. Influenced by the diversity of show music, bebop and modern classical music, his repertoire explored melodic structure with a complicated and pensive introspection.
Unfortunately, Evans was decimated by heroin addiction. This would ultimately result in his demise at the age of 51. Despite this impediment, he wrote, composed and performed until the end. With a gentle demeanor, Evans and his musical legacy persevered. In 1979, Bill Evans recorded a radio concert in the Netherlands that has taken over thirty years to see the light of day.
Bill Evans/The Sesjun Radio Shows is a revelatory look at the undeniable genius of a true jazz icon. Two CDs (19 tracks) span decades of musical inspiration. The initial five cuts are performed as a duo with bassist, Eddie Gomez. The rapport between them is discernible. On the opening track, “Up With The Lark” (Kern/Robin), Evans’ touch is immaculate. His ability to interpret composition is intuitive. From moody excursions to waltz time breaks, the construction of the pieces is always interesting. Gomez plays counter and takes on leads with crisp soloing. “Some Other Time” (Bernstein/Comden/Green) combines the intricacies of both musicians. Evans’ original numbers are suffused with improvisation. “TTT (Twelve Tone Tune)" starts with unison dynamics, evolving into a two-man jam. On “TTTT (Twelve Tone Tune Two)” Eliot Zigmund adds some muscle to the dynamics.
Disc Two employs a different trio. Joe LaBarbera and Marc Johnson seem to bring a swing vibe to the session. This is most noticeable on the Rodgers/Hart standard, “My Romance”. Evans completely reincarnates the piece, varying style and tempo with abandon. It seems curious that many jazz aficionados view his playing as sedate. This cut should wake them up. Evans’ piano explodes with sparkling riffs. Additionally, LaBarbera and Johnson knock out undulating solos, as the ensemble swings. “Nardis” is permeated by improvisation and cascading chords. Johnson turns in another deft bass solo. If the CDs merely covered Bill Evans and the duo/trio formats, it would be a very good venture. However, harmonica wizard Jean “Toots” Thielman makes a huge contribution. The harmonica runs on “Blue In Green” give the tune a unique resonance, but still manage to fit in with the shifting tempo. It is somewhat of a rarity to experience a harmonica in a jazz context. On “The Days Of Wine And Roses” the instrument serves as a melody lead, like a flute or saxophone. The “quartet” is revitalized on the Thielman masterpiece, “Bluesette." Evans lays down a fierce solo bringing the jam to a boiling point that belies the broad, almost cinematic auditory themes of the composition. Another interesting selection was a cover of a lesser known Paul Simon tune (“I Do It For Your Love”). By the time the group explode on “Five” the set has been transformed into a swing opus. At times the perception that Evans may be in failing health is unfathomable.
Bill Evans/The Sesjun Radio Tapes is the third release in this series. The sound is clear and uncompromised. Liner notes detail the back story of the recording. Earlier releases showcased trumpeter Chet Baker, and drummer Art Blakey. The recordings come from the archives of Tros Sejun whose weekly programs (1973-2004) featured live jazz. The music of Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz and Clark Terry, and others, will be part of future projects.
Disc One: Up With The Lark; Time Remembered; TTT (Twelve Tone Tune); The Two Lonely People; Some Other Time; Sugar Plum; Sareen Jurer; Morning Glory; TTTT (Twelve Tone Tune Two); Blue Serge
Disc Two: If You Could See Me Now; My Romance; Laurie; Nardis; Blue In Green; The Days Of Wine And Roses; I Do It For Your Love; Bluesette; Five
— Robbie Gerson