Three From Rhapsody Films featuring Bill Evans and Jim Hall
Senior Editor since 2004With the realization that there will always be more music coming at him than he can keep up with, John wonders why anyone would think that jazz is dead or dying.
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With praise coming from sources as diverse as Dan Morgenstern, Clint Eastwood and Richard Pena, Bruce Rickert's Rhapsody Films is rapidly making a name for itself as an imprint devoted to reissuing some of the more important archival jazz, blues and world music releases, originally only available on video, on DVD format. While some of their titles are currently still only available in VHS, it's but a matter of time before they've digitized their entire collection, and that's good news for collectors who have worn down their old tapes, and better news for newcomers who are looking for the opportunity to watch artists including Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones and others who, having sadly passed, can only be seen through such archival recordings. Amongst the more recent DVD issues are two releases by Bill Evans and one by Jim Hall.
The Bill Evans Trio
Jazz at the Maintenance Shop 1979: The Newly Released Encore Performances
Bill Evans (piano), Marc Johnson (bass), Joe La Barbera (drums)
With the hindsight of twenty years honing a piano trio format which was innovative in its sheer equality of division of role between piano, bass and drums, and with a history that included some of jazz's most intuitive of players - bassists Scott LaFaro and Eddy Gomez, drummers Paul Motian and Jack DeJohnette to name but a few - it was Bill Evans's final trio, featuring a young Marc Johnson on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums, that was arguably his most fully-realized. As more live recordings of this relatively short-lived trio become available, it becomes clear that Johnson and La Barbera may well be the most sympathetic players Evans ever worked with; in particular Johnson who, while still in his 20s, was already demonstrating the dexterity, innovation and paradoxically muscular yet delicate touch that would make him one of the most in demand bassists in subsequent years with artists including John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Charles Lloyd.
Jazz at the Maintenance Shop 1979: The Newly Released Encore Performances is a companion to the original Maintenance Shop show that was broadcast on PBS television in the late '70s. The original release suffered slightly from a somewhat cantankerous Evans, who complained of sound problems throughout the performance. This release of additional performances from the same recording is more straightforward, with Evans only speaking briefly to introduce the songs, letting the music speak for itself, with Evans in a slightly more congenial, if still introspective and self-absorbed mood. It's hard to believe, in fact, when watching these three players who seem to never make eye contact, that the level of interplay and interaction is so high, but it is.
The program consists of a number of Evans staples including "34 Skidoo," "Gary's Theme" and "Someday My Prince Will Come" most receiving somewhat shorter than usual treatments, perhaps in order to fit more tunes into the one-hour television broadcast format, but the gem of the performance is the more extended finale, "Nardis," which was a staple of Evans' for many years but seemed to receive its most vivid interpretation at the hands of this particular trio. More a series of interconnected solos than an ensemble piece, it demonstrates that "going for it" in music doesn't have to sacrifice subtlety and grace.
As remarkable as the performance is, the sound and camerawork, especially for the time, is outstanding. A number of cameras put you in the centre of the action, with the close-ups of Evans' hands being, possibly, the most interesting shots as they reveal his complete confidence. Evans was always a step ahead of himself; his thematic ideas developing with a purity of intent, and watching him play - seemingly combining a sense of abandon with complete control - is an interesting exercise in contrast. Johnson's seemingly endless ideas, combined with a rich sense of swing, are captured and conveyed perfectly.
Now if only Rhapsody will release the original Maintenance Shop recording; warts and all, combined with Jazz at the Maintenance Shop 1979: The Newly Released Encore Performances the two companion pieces demonstrate Evans, near the end of his life, making some of the most creative and sharp music of his career.
The Universal Mind of Bill Evans