Technology and art have always had a tumultuous relationship at best. Advancements in technology have often been greeted by the artistic community by a split response: Some embrace the new technology and experiment with it, reaching out for new forms of expression that were impossible before; others shun the advances, dismissing them and those that use them as poor synthetic substitutions for "real" artistic struggle and creativity.
Today, a great deal of this controversy centers around the use of computers in both the visual and audio arts. Sampling, digital replication, and plagiarism are all issues debated regularly. However, in 1963, the topic of debate was overdubbing, a practice that we regularly take for granted today. And at the center of the debate about this "new" technology was Bill Evans.
Universally considered as one of the top jazz pianists in history today, in 1963 Bill Evans was yet to experience huge commercial success. Drugs, non-focused career management, and bad luck had all conspired to place Bill Evans on tenuous ground, career wise, in 1963. An idea, however, the an album of Bill Evans playing with Bill Evans was hatched, and Evans was game. The rest, as they say, is history....or rather the album Conversations With Myself. Conversations With Myself was a major undertaking, and perhaps, an even greater risk. Overdubbing was sneered at by most jazz people, looked at as "gimmicky" and "synthetic". But Evans, one of the most lyrical musicians the jazz world has ever known, was intrigued with taking the "conversational" approach his trio had been practicing to the next logical level. If three musicians could practice and play together long enough to be able to carry on musical conversations during a song, then wouldn't the musical ideas expressed and explored by multiple tracks of the same musician be even closer to an "idealized" perfection? In 1963, the answer was unclear. In 1997 though, the answer is clear, and Conversations With Myself 's inclusion in Verve Master Edition set exemplifies the positive response.
Garnering a 5 star review from Downbeat in 1963, and a Grammy, Conversations With Myself was an instant classic for the jazz community. Evans work on the ten tunes included here is truly inspired and amazing to behold. In each song, it is as if three distinctive "sides" or "personalities" of Bill Evans are playing together...each keenly aware of what the others are doing, and perhaps more importantly, will do. Evans' amazing musical comprehension is given center stage while running through classic jazz sides like "'Round Midnight," "Stella By Starlight" and "Just You, Just Me." "Blue Monk" showcases a muscularity to Evans' playing that he rarely displayed, while the "Love Theme From Spartacus" showcases Evans' signature use of space, time and inference.
Overall, this album is rather unique for Evans. Known as one of jazz's "prettiest" pianists, the extensive use of overdubbing here adds so much substance to these tracks that it is somewhat difficult for the uninitiated to keep up with everything that is going on. For the fan of Evans though, this glimpse of the artist at a heightened level of expression is very rewarding indeed. However, for the casual fan, I would not suggest this disc. The musical vocabulary is complex enough that the simple beauty of the songs, and Evans playing, is at times lost. Better to start with some of Evans' Riverside albums, or any of Verve's trio albums first, allowing the listener to "build up" a sense of Evans and his ideas...then come back to this album. And prepare to be impressed.
Artistically important, but not the most accessible - 3 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)