Bill Evans – Smile With Your Heart: The Best Of Bill Evans On Resonance – Resonance records HCD-2038, 69:23 ****1/2:
(Bill Evans – piano; Eddie Gomez – double bass; Marty Morell – drums; Jack DeJohnette – drums)
Nearly four decades after his death, the legacy of Bill Evans continues. His influence over future pianists is found in the creative utilization of block chording, impressionistic harmony and motivic development. After impressive work with Miles Davis (Kind Of Blue) and Art Farmer (Modern Art), Evans moved onto a solo career that redefined jazz piano. His most prolific catalog was in a trio format. He astutely delegated root chords to the bassist, allowing himself more flexibility in improvisation and melodic exploration. He remained dedicated to “strict” jazz and never embraced various fusion or other genre-bending movements. Despite battles with personal demons, Evans output throughout the 60’s and 70’s was astounding.
Resonance Records, an independent jazz label was founded by George Klabin in 2005. The goal of the label was to preserve the art and legacy of jazz and promote up and coming jazz stars. Among the preservation artists were John Coltrane, Gene Harris, Scott LeFaro, Wes Montgomery and Bill Evans. Unearthing “lost” recordings of top jazz stars has catapulted Resonance into jazz prominence. There have been four releases of Bill Evans material, Live At Art D’Lugoff’s Top Of The Gate, Some Other Time: The Last Session From The Black Forest, Another Time: The Hilversum Concert, and Evans In England. With the cooperation of the pianist’s estate (a staple of this program), Klabin and co-producer Zev Feldman have put together a selected compilation of these albums. Bill Evans – Smile With Your Heart should delight the legion of Bill Evans fans, or for that matter any jazz enthusiast. The opening track is an uptempo 3/4 time signature cover of “Someday My Prince Will Come”. This aspirational song was first introduced in the 1937 Disney film Snow White And The Seven Dwarves. It is now rooted in the annals of jazz history with versions by Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to name a few. Evans recorded this composition on the 1959 album, Portrait In Jazz. This version is live and embraces the dynamics of his trio (Eddie Gomez/double bass; Marty Morell/drums). Evans glides with the melody, bringing his deft rhythm and phrasing into focus. Chording and notation on the first solo are mesmerizing. Gomez brings an understated urgency to his solo. Morell’s drum fills are effective. Evans manages to distill the intrinsic, hopeful longing and translate it to swing. Jazz players will often pluck a lesser known popular song and re-introduce it to a new audience. Such is the case with “Yesterdays”. Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum and Bud Powell all recorded it. Bill Evans included this on Further Conversations With Myself. Again piano, double bass and drum are intermingled with finesse. As Gomez solos, Evans and Morell counter with crisp elocution. Evans executes a stirring run at 2:40 which is both hard-driving and lyrical. The overall timing of the trio is impeccable.
In a change of pace, “Mother Of Earl” exudes a playful, skipping ambience. Evans seems to float along the notes, injecting atmospheric chords as Gomez counters. The ending touches on classical music phrasing and jazz timing. “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” was from the Andre/Dory Previn score for the 1965 cult movie, “Inside Daisy Clover”. The finger-snapping vibe is framed by jaunty chords and notes that have an uplifting tenor and occasional punctuation. On “Baubles Bangles And Beads”, another Broadway song, Evans’ seamless waltz-time flow leads into a trademark, lyrically notated solo. His runs are measured, and increasingly become more complex. Gomez’s a syncopated flourish adds another texture. When a great tune is matched with a great musician, it can be something special. The Rodgers/Hart perennial standard, “My Funny Valentine” became a vital part of jazz history when Chet Baker and Stan Getz performed it in 1954. This ode to melancholy in C minor is a perfect vehicle for Evans’ melodic interpretation. His ethereal feel, soulful resonance and well-time flourishes are compelling. There are tempo shifts, chord changes and an overall eloquence that envelop the song. “Nardis” is a Miles Davis composition that has become strongly associated with Evans. This classic example of late 50’s jazz modality has been a significant part of Bill’s recording legacy (multiple versions). Here Evans lays down swing riffs and turns it over to Gomez who runs with his solo. The trio returns with ferocity and Evans’ run is scintillating. Jack DeJohnette is magnetic on an extended four-minute solo. It is a jazz trio at its finest! “Very Early” (an original tune) dates back to 1962, the genesis of Evans’ trio history. After the ruminative introduction, Evans morphs into bop-like swing, building from a 3/4 transition that also closes the number. These reflective changes are a component of another original, “Turn Out The Stars”. Evans can maneuver from up tempo to quiet contemplation with adroitness. Frank Sinatra’s first big band hit, “Polka Dots And Moonbeams” has been covered by several jazz artists, but none with the sophisticated nuances of Evans. This live performance is vintage.
The listener can appreciate Evans’ mood-influenced, airy phrasing on “Re; The Person I Know”. Also, the musical intensity never abates as the skipping bass and steady drumming drive this jam. It is likely that “Waltz For Debbie” (inspired by his niece) is Bill Evans’ most renowned touchstone in this remarkable performance repertoire. Critics regard the song as the epitome of Bill Evans with trio. It is playful and organically propulsive.
Smile With Your Heart: The Best Of Bill Evans On Resonance is highly enjoyable jazz and a testament to a legendary performer and a label worthy of this artistry.
Someday My Prince Will Come
Mother Of Earl
You’re Gonna Hear From Me
Baubles, Bangles And Beads
My Funny Valentine
Turn Out The Stars
Polka Dots And Moonbeams
Person I Know
Waltz For Debby