Turn Out the Lights: The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980
Bill Evans Trio
Turn Out the Stars: The Final Village Vanguard Recordings June 1980
The recent wave of celebrity deaths is a reminder that there's no greater loss the arts can suffer than losing someone in their creative prime. Pianist Bill Evans was 50 when he returned to New York's Village Vanguard for a series of dates in the summer of 1980 with his relatively new trio, and he was 51 when he passed away three months later. Evans would have turned 80 this year.
This trioMarc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drumswas on the verge of breaking new ground, much the way Evans' trio did 20 years earlier with Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro, himself tragically cut down while he was just getting started. And if the trio was Evans' preferred format three musicians rising to the challenge of maintaining their individuality while contributing to the collective and making each of the parts better for itthis Bill Evans trio extended the exploration of modal structure, generated intense lyricism and functioned with unprecedented empathy and interplay.
The generous booklet included with the six discs of Turn Out the Stars: The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980, a reissue of a box set that appeared in limited release in 1996, quotes Evans himself as saying he "had become rather rigid." Evans had found a style with his trio in 1961 and stuck with it. With the Johnson-LaBarbera rhythm section, however, "Things that were more or less static ha[d] gotten into motion and [were] developing." Like the great Evans trio of two decades prior, the pianist's lines were long and asymmetrical with crisp unpredictable accents. Each version in the repertoire led with a subtle rhythmic edge, all three players leaning into the beat, none more so than Evans, whose dynamism at the keyboard was conveyed by rich gradations of touch and impressionistic sweep.
At the center of the triangle was the bassist in the band, a slot defined by LaFaro's emergence as a second lead. Evans would play less to give the bassist space and the achingly slow tempos the pianist favored in his ballad playing were nurtured by LaFaro's style. From that point, playing bass in the Evans trio was like playing center field for the Yankees. They, at least, had Mickey Mantle come up to replace the great DiMaggio: Evans tried Chuck Israels, Gary Peacock and finally Eddie Gomez (for over a decade) before finding Marc Johnson. Traditional bassists would merely follow his lead, while free players were too free for Evans, who insisted on not just emotional content but artistic, aesthetic and formal content as well. Johnson has mobility and drive, combining pedal tones with double stops, guitar fluency and resonance. Joe LaBarbera is melody-centered, relating phrases to the theme, kicking his bass drum for continuity and utilizing his sticks for patterns. It's the rhythmic freedom and give and take among the players that infuses this music with excitement, suspense and the thrill of possibilities being realized.
There's a lot of piano here. Six discs, each over an hour, covering multiple sets in a five-night stand. Repetition is to be expected and the Evans repertoire didn't change much. His energy was directed toward improvisation and subtle variations from tune to tune. Completists as well as beginners are advised to start with disc four and its version of "Nardis" (played each night, at length), which lays out Evans' patterns developing from the underlying song form; a second version of "The Days of Wine and Roses," even jauntier than the first; a high-energy "Up With the Lark" and a fresh "Bill's Hit Tune" with the band swinging at full strength. Overall, expansive music featuring open exchanges that build to a steady momentum.
In the end, running on adrenaline, the band moves from "My Romance" (having tailored time with nips and tucks) straight into "Five." After a few choruses the tape runs out, missing out on the band's exclamatory chords as well as the audience's reaction. It's a fitting finale to a jazz life cut prematurely short.
Tracks: CD1: Bill's Hit Tune; Nardis; If You Could See Me Now; The Two Lonely People: Laurie; My Romance; Tiffany; Like Someone In Love; Letter To Evan. CD2: Days Of Wine And Roses; Emily; My Foolish Heart; Nardis; Yet Ne'er Broken; Quiet Now; But Not For Me; Spring Is Here; Autumn Leaves. CD3: Your Story; Re: Person I Knew; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; Two Lonely People, The; Theme From M*A*S*H; Tiffany; Turn Out The Stars; Laurie; My Romance; Knit For Mary F.; Midnight Mood; Time Remembered. CD4: Days Of Wine And Roses; Up With The Lark; Nardis; Your Story; Yet Ne'er Broken; If You Could See Me Now; Bill's Hit Tune; Tiffany; In Your Own Sweet Way. CD5: I Do It For Your Love; Five; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; Bill's Hit Tune; Turn Out The Stars; Days Of Wine And Roses; But Not For Me; Knit For Mary F.; Like Someone In Love; Quiet Now. CD6: Emily; Nardis; Knit For Mary F.; Like Someone In Love; Letter To Evan; Minha; A Sleepin' Bee; My Romance/Five.
Personnel: Bill Evans: piano; Marc Johnson: bass; Joe LaBarbera: drums.