Bill Evans & Don Elliott: Tenderly

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Subtitled ‘An Informal Session’ this mid-1950s meeting between Evans and Elliott transpired in the latter’s home studio. Never intended for release, listeners expecting a tightly cropped and polished studio date are likely to be disappointed. Fortunately Fantasy producer Eric Miller opted to leave those extraneous noises that did not directly compromise the music in the mix. The result is voyeuristic snapshot of two musicians playing purely for their own enjoyment, working out tunes on the spot and tinkering expressively with standard and blues building blocks.

Numerous standards from Evans evolving songbook are on display, starting with a choppy, but spirited reading of “Tenderly.” Elliott joins in for the first several minutes on vibes, but soon drops out leaving the pianist to explore the melody in isolation. Several false starts marked by luminous washes of melodic color from Elliott preface “Laura” and the vibraphonist takes the initial lead before relinquishing control again to Evans dancing chords. He returns later in the piece voicing some intriguing vocal percussion effects that simulate the sounds of high hat clip clops and staccato rim shots. Evans answers in between with a series of angular fills and at times Elliott’s pedal sustain tests the sonic edges of the session microphones creating brittle echo that contrasts nicely with the pianist’s more lyrical passages. Later explorations follow an analogous pattern with one man getting the ball rolling and the other joining soon after to keep the inertial flow free from obstacles with mixed success. Evans runs a solitary race on a handful pieces too such as the lovely “Everything Happens to Me” and a series of fragmentary renderings starting with “Like Someone In Love” and ending with “Thou Swell.”

The rough-hewn nature of most of the improvisations is in some instances distracting, but once the pair finds a common speed and direction their interplay is often absorbing and instructive. Tune lengths seem to be almost purely a matter of whim coupled with the relative level of synchronous communication achieved. Fans of Evans (and Elliott) will certainly relish the chance to hear their heroes in such casual repartee, but other listeners with less of an admiration may feel otherwise as there are frequent tangents, stops and detours in the duo’s journey. On a peripheral note the disc’s cover pictures Elliott clutching a mellophone, a grin suffusing his features. Why he didn’t unpack the horn for the date is mystery, but image offers a tempting hint of the music that might have resulted had he done so.

Milestone on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com

Track Listing: Tenderly/ I

Personnel: Bill Evans- piano; Don Elliott- vibes, percussion. Recorded: 1956 & 1957, Connecticut.

Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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