As Jim McNeely observes in the liner notes, the late Bill Evans’ reputation as a great Jazz pianist overshadowed his remarkable gifts as a composer, an oversight the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra seeks to redress by repositioning seven of Evans’ graceful melodies in a big–band framework (with a medley comprised of bassist Scott LaFaro’s “Gloria’s Step” and Clare Fischer’s elegy to LaFaro, “Theme for Scotty”). Even though Evans’ music is more pensive than explosive, its natural beauty tends to neutralize that weakness, as do McNeely’s sumptuous charts and the unwavering solicitude of the DRJO. And even though there are times when one wishes there were more fireworks and less soul–searching, the over–all presentation is seldom less than inspiring. The word “seldom” must be used as a qualifier, as tenor Tomas Franck’s arrangement of “Blue in Green” (on which he is featured) is on the whole marginally less successful than the others, as is the pairing of “Gloria’s Step” and “Theme for Scotty,” scored by lead trombonist Vincent Nilsson. Mind you, these are personal opinions, not anything that should be carved in stone. The session glides smoothly into gear with “Very Early,” which we’re told Evans wrote while still in high school (quite the prodigy!). It’s an enchanting waltz with solos to match by guitarist Chico Lindvall and tenor Uffe Markussen. “Show–Type Tune,” a medium–tempo charmer, precedes “Blue in Green.” The simpatico soloists are pianist Nikolaj Bentzon and flugel Thomas Fryland. The oddly named “T.T.T.T.T.T.T.” is a “medley” of sorts, combining Evans’ “Twelve Tone Tune” with the later “Twelve Tone Tune Two” (hence the seven “t’s”) and underlining persuasive statements by tenor Franck and trombonist Steen Hansen. “Waltz for Debby,” perhaps Evans’ best–known composition, is handsomely played with tasteful solos by Bentzon, bassist Thomas Ovesen and flugel Henrik Bolberg Pedersen. (Does anyone besides me notice its similarity to Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way”?) The unrelieved darkness of “Theme for Scotty,” written by Fischer following LaFaro’s early death in an auto accident, encompasses the sunnier landscape of the bassist’s “Gloria’s Step,” on which Ovesen and Franck are showcased, introducing and ending the medley. “Re: Person I Knew,” which also opens on a somber note with Bentzon’s unaccompanied piano paving the way for wailing brass and droning reeds, is an anagram for “Orrin Keepnews,” who produced many of Evans’ early albums for Riverside Records. The soloists are Lindvall, Nilsson and Franck. The album closes, appropriately enough, with another ballad, “Turn Out the Stars,” with McNeely sitting in for Bentzon and fashioning an exquisite solo that serves as its capstone. Those who admire Bill Evans (and that includes Jazz fans of almost every persuasion) are bound to appreciate this consistently warmhearted and exceedingly well–played big–band tribute from McNeely and the DRJO.
Contact: Stunt Records, 29 W. Maple Avenue, Bellmawr, NJ 08031 (phone 856–931–6441; fax 856–931–6445. Sundance, Haavnegade 41, 1058 Copenhagen K, Denmark. E–mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web site, www.sundance.dk