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Bill Evans in Buenos Aires: Two From Resonance

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Few pianists in jazz have been recorded as copiously as Bill Evans, with a discography that grows seemingly by the year, and with no signs of stopping. At least that's the impression one gets thanks in large part to Resonance Records, which has now released seven Evans albums since 2012's Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate. The most recent are this pair recorded six years apart in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with two of Evans' iconic trios. With Resonance's typical blue-ribbon treatment, both are accompanied by illuminating interviews and reminiscences, memorable photography, and heartfelt dedication to one of jazz's greatest pianists.

Bill Evans
Morning Glory
Resonance Records
2022

Morning Glory
features bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, perhaps Evans' second most-famous lineup after the unsurpassed unit that included bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian; they certainly have the recognition of being Evans' longest-running trio formation, having played with Evans from 1968-1974. Here they are documented live at the Teatro Gran Rex in 1973, as part of a five-stop tour of South America. Political upheaval provided the backdrop to the concert, as Juan Perón had recently enjoyed a dramatic return to Argentina after a long exile in Spain and was soon to be re-elected president of the country. Despite the palpable tension in the streets of Buenos Aires, Evans and his partners' consummate professionalism ensured that the trio's trademark sensitivity and superlative technique would dazzle their ecstatic audience—even given the unfavorable hour of the performance, which had to take place at 10AM on a Sunday morning as a result of booking complications.

The sound is not pristine, as there is audible tape hiss throughout the recording, and it is in mono, so we don't quite get to hear each musician as distinctly as one would like; but those quibbles aside, the music itself is outstanding. Evans is in fine form, with his characteristic empathy toward his partners bringing about a true egalitarianism. Gomez is a particular marvel, with a percussive crispness to his delivery that is captured exceptionally well on the album, and Evans seems to sense that it is going to be a good show for the bassist right from the start, as he gives him the first generous solo space on both of the first cuts, "Re: Person I Knew" and "Emily." His arco playing is also featured quite nicely, with sensitive, nuanced contributions to "The Two Lonely People" and "My Romance." And Morrell anchors the trio with understated yet steady support that allows the music's inherent lyricism to shine prominently. This trio is also capable of swinging hard, however: the thirteen-minute "Beautiful Love" is exceptionally robust and dynamic, with scintillating playing from Evans that is complemented beautifully by his energized bandmates. Although much of Evans' regular repertoire is included in the concert, the trio does provide a lovely rendition of "Esta Tarde vi Llover," a tune by Mexican composer Armando Manzanero. And the encore performance of "My Foolish Heart" is itself a five-minute masterpiece of gentle beauty.

Bill Evans
Inner Spirit
Resonance Records
2022

In September 1979, Evans' "last trio," featuring bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe La Barbera returned to Buenos Aires for the concert found on Inner Spirit, this time recorded at the Teatro General San Martín. Challenging circumstances once again prevailed, with even more political conflict stemming from public unrest surrounding an unpopular military junta that had been installed in 1976, not to mention Evans' own declining health, which would bring about his death less than a year later. But one is hard-pressed to find many flaws in what is another stellar performance from a trio that had clearly hit its stride by this point in its sadly too-brief tenure.

Like Morning Glory, this recording is also in mono, although with less background noise the nuances of the playing are a bit easier to discern. Despite his illness, Evans plays with impressive stamina, although there are a few ragged moments in which his lines don't seem quite as precise and fluid as we hear on the previous record. But there is an assertiveness to his playing nonetheless, almost as though he's struggling to overcome his physical limitations with sheer force of will. The results can be quite compelling, particularly on the fleet-tempo rendition of "Someday My Prince Will Come," where Evans' surging chords and right-hand torrents gain renewed force. Johnson and LaBarbera are just as important, with an ability to drive Evans forward or to remain in subdued rapport, as the situation warrants. The heartbreaking fragility only Evans can convey is still here, as on his gorgeous solo take on "I Loves You, Porgy." But what distinguishes this trio from its predecessor is its sometimes-impatient urgency, heard to no better effect than on "Nardis," given a seventeen-minute tour-de-force treatment to close the concert, with Evans fighting mightily to explore each and every harmonic crevasse of the tune, as Johnson and LaBarbera match his almost unbridled intensity with plenty of their own.

Tracks and Personnel

Morning Glory

Tracks: Re: Person I Knew; Emily; Who Can I Turn To?; The Two Lonely People; What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?; My Romance; Mornin' Glory; Up With the Lark; T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune); Esta Tarde vi Llover; Beautiful Love; Waltz for Debby; My Foolish Heart.

Personnel: Bill Evans: piano; Eddie Gomez: bass; Marty Morell: drums.

Inner Spirit

Tracks: Stella by Starlight; Laurie; Theme from M*A*S*H*; Turn Out the Stars; I Do It for Your Love; My Romance; Letter to Evan; I Loves You, Porgy; Up With the Lark; Minha (All Mine); Someday My Prince Will Come; If You Could See Me Now; Nardis.

Personnel: Bill Evans: piano; Marc Johnson: bass; Joe LaBarbera: drums.

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