How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Veteran arranger Don Sebesky crafts an often-glowing portrait of famed jazz pianist Bill Evans in this quite welcome orchestral jazz tribute. While he is too often derided (and unfairly) as the guy who mucked up Wes Montgomery and other CTI stars with strings and horn sections, Sebesky often presents subtle arrangements that offer keen respect for a soloist's musicianship. When a listener notices Sebesky's work, it's often in the occasional punctuation mark or interesting sound combinations he creates. But it's his respect for the featured musician that sets him apart and probably drew him to this project.
Here, Sebesky has gathered a prominent collection of top-shelf jazz musicians, many of whom actually worked with Evans during his career. But one instrumentalist he did not recruit was a pianist. A wise move. This permits appropriate direction from the bassist and drummer and allows reliance on a rhythm player who is not burdened by aping or avoiding Bill Evans' style. Such daunting responsibility falls to the guitarist; in most cases, Larry Coryell, who is outstanding in his eight appearances here and, perhaps, emerges as this session’s real star.
The material is carefully drawn from Evans' originals and standards associated with the pianist. But, in a quest for variety, the result is something of a mixed bag. Standouts include sterling takes of "All the Things You Are" (with Lee Konitz), Sebesky's oddly-titled "Bill, Not Gil" and "T.T.T.T." (both featuring Bob Brookmeyer and Eddie Daniels) and, of course, "Waltz for Debby" (with Joe Lovano and Tom Harrell). But Sebesky achieves greatness with his transformation of Evans' lovely "Peace Piece" into an elegant adagio. Effectively coordinating strings, harp, percussion and Hubert Laws' flute, he has surely crafted one for the ages here. His boisterous take on "So What" (with solid contributions from Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell and Larry Coryell) is also worthwhile, but seems reminiscent of his showy work with Wes Montgemery. The three vocal tunes (separately featuring Chet Baker-like John Pizzarelli, Jeannie Bryson and the intolerable New York Voices), though, all are quite unnecessary and seem to break any mood Sebesky may have been aiming for. Still, it's refreshing to hear high-quality orchestral jazz being made in the late nineties and one hopes Don Sebesky will be in the forefront of keeping it alive.
Tracks:Waltz for Debby; I Remember Bill; So What; Quiet Now; All The Things You Are; Peace Piece; Bill, Not Gil; Very Early; T.T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune Two); Autumn Leaves; Blue in Green; I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; Epilogue; Bill Evans Interview.
Personnel: Tom Harrell: flugelhorn; Bob Brookmeyer: valve trombone; Joe Lovano: tenor sax; Lee Konitz: alto sax; Eddie Daniels: clarinet; Hubert Laws: flute; Larry Coryell, Ken Sebesky: guitar; John Pizzarelli: guitar, vocals. Marc Johnson, Eddie Gomez: bass; Joe LaBarbera, Marty Morell, Dennis Mackrel: drums; Toots Thielmans: harmonica; Sue Evans, Joe Passaro: percussion; Dave Samuels: vibraphone; New York Voices (Darmon Meader, Lauren Kinhan, Peter Eldridge, Kim Nazarian), Jeanie Bryson: vocals; with brass, woodwinds and strings.