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Bill Evans: Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott's

Troy Dostert BY

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Bill Evans: Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott's
All fans of Bill Evans, and piano trio enthusiasts generally, owe a huge debt of gratitude to Resonance Records, which over the last decade has released a formidable series of Evans discs featuring previously unreleased material (unless you count bootlegs). Beginning with Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate in 2012, showcasing Evans' trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morrell, the pace really quickened several years later, when Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest (2016) turned to focus on the woefully under-recorded 1968 trio with drummer Jack DeJohnette joining Evans and Gomez, a combo that had only appeared before then on At the Montreux Jazz Festival (Verve, 1968). Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (2017) soon followed, with the same lineup, and after another Evans/Gomez/Morrell offering in 2019, Evans in England, Resonance gives us yet one more Evans trio release.

Once again featuring the '68 trio with DeJohnette and Gomez, Live at Ronnie Scott's is something very different from the earlier recordings with this lineup, all of which were relatively restrained performances in front of concert audiences or in the studio. Promising all the additional energy, intimacy and spontaneity that the fabled British club could generate, this recording documents a looser, more adventurous iteration of the trio. And with a two-CD (or two-LP) set featuring 100 minutes of music and the usual first-rate Resonance packaging and assorted extras, this one bears many of the hallmarks of the label's commendable care and attention to detail, with one major caveat: the abysmal sound quality, which for many prospective listeners may prove to be a deal-breaker.

In a substantial interview with Chick Corea included in the set's voluminous printed materials, DeJohnette explains that he was responsible for the recording of these performances, using a "hip recorder" and a mic he positioned near the bass and the piano, with the drums consequently "leaked in." And it's ironic that DeJohnette not only made the original recording but urged producer Zev Feldman to release it for Resonance, because the sound of his instrument fares the worst by far on the album. His drums are heavily distorted, to the point that much of the subtlety of his cymbal-work is completely inaudible; the overall effect is of someone pounding the drums into submission, rather than displaying the feisty yet nuanced rhythmic complexity that DeJohnette always brings to his craft.

If one is able to set aside the deficiencies of the recording, the music on offer is very good indeed. Right from the opener, "A Sleepin' Bee," there is a vitality and exuberance to the music that simply isn't as present on the previous recordings, and there's no question that DeJohnette has much to do with that. He's on fire, with a spirited drive that teases out some of the most vigorous playing from Evans and Gomez one is likely to hear. Gomez' lightning-fast runs and nimble transitions are, as always, stunning, and Evans clearly relishes the opportunity to stretch out on these tunes, taking more chances and engaging in the kinds of extrapolations that a month's residency at the club facilitated. Hearing the trio dig in on Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," with DeJohnette prodding Evans to ever more-garrulous bursts, is exhilarating. But on the ballad cuts—and this is an Evans recording, after all, so there are a fair number of them, from "My Man's Gone Now" to "Spring is Here" and "Quiet Now"—when we most need to hear the subtlety in DeJohnette's playing, it's too hard to find it. And at his most impassioned moments, as when he trades eights with Evans toward the end of "Someday My Prince Will Come," the level of distortion is almost painful.

But limitations aside, given the undeniably first-rate musicianship on display and Resonance's trademark dedication to packaging it with care, there's a lot of value here, and the release's historical significance alone renders it an important addition to the Evans discography. Listeners will just have to decide for themselves if they can withstand the disappointing aural presentation of DeJohnette's contributions, especially given how well they have been documented on Resonance's prior coverage of this fine trio.

Track Listing

Sleepin' Bee; You're Gonna Hear From Me (Version 1); Yesterdays; Turn Out the Stars; My Man's Gone Now; Emily (Version 1); Spring is Here; Embraceable You; For Heaven’s Sake; Someday My Prince Will Come; Quiet Now; 'Round Midnight; Stella by Starlight; Alfie; You're Gonna Hear From Me (Version 2); Very Early; Emily (Version 2); Waltz for Debby; Autumn Leaves; Nardis.

Personnel

Bill Evans: piano; Eddie Gomez: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

Album information

Title: Live at Ronnie Scott's | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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