Devotees of the immortal Bill Evans will jump at this bouquet of previously unreleased cuts, taped by fan Mike Harris at the Village Vanguard on January 15, 1978. During that week, Evans was trying out a different replacement for bassist Eddie Gomez each night, among them Rufus Reid and George Mraz. This recording was Michael Moore's "audition" for the trio, which he passed, staying with them for six months. Harris's reel-to-reel was digitally edited and mastered at Fantasy studios in 2003 and the sound, while a tad muffled, is decent enough to make this CD very listenable. And at 73 minutes, it's a generous sampling of live, late-period Evans (he died two years later).
As luck would have it, I'm in the middle of reading Peter Pettinger's 1998 biography of Evans, entitled How My Heart Sings, and his account of this trio matches the liner notes of this session. It also expresses my reaction to this CD: this is not the relaxed, lyrical Evans who influenced virtually every pianist who came after him. For one thing, most of the tunes are up-tempo, even Denny Zeitlin's shimmering "Quiet Now," which Evans actually sounds impatient to get through.
There are moments of his trademark harmonic density on Jimmy Rowles's gorgeous "The Peacocks," but drummer Philly Joe Jones is so strident and busy on the second and third choruses that it precludes the luxuriating one usually does with an Evans ballad. (Perhaps the tape recorder was sitting right next to the drums?) The same thing happens with the classic "Emily"— Johnny Mandel's beauty, long associated with Evans—where his solo intro seems rushed on its way to the fast waltz. His own lovely "Turn out the Stars" gets a similar treatment. I hear more freshness and enthusiasm in Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" and the evergreen "When I Fall in Love."
As Moore puts it,
It was a very emotional thing for me, to get the job, and then to have to quit. Maybe I wanted him to be the Bill Evans I was listening to back in 1962, but I know it got to the point where Bill believed having his playing described as "melodic" and "beautiful' was an insult, so he decided he wanted to be "hot" and play lots of notes.
There are seeds of that tendency in this CD, but there are also wonderful (dare I say "beautiful?") moments, like Evans's soulful, focused interpretation of "But Beautiful," the only true ballad in the mix.
The fact that this was the first time Moore played with Evans—reading chords off a little notebook—makes this a remarkable example of the mastery and spontaneity that are possible in jazz. In any case, it's a valuable document of a legendary career.
Track Listing: I Should Care, How My Heart Sings, Gary's Theme, I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, Quiet Now, Re: Person I Knew, The Peacocks, Emily, Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless), Turn out the Stars, When I Fall in Love, In Your Own Sweet Way, But Beautiful, I Love You
Personnel: Bill Evans (piano), Michael Moore (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)
Author of "The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the myth of the mad genius," Dr. J combines her love of jazz and her fascination with psychology, focusing on where they overlap: in celebrating the individual spirit.