Together with Thelonious Monk and Tadd Dameron John Lewis defined the art composition for the bop generation. Beyond that he led a jazz ensemble for many years, acted as musical director for festivals and concerts, pioneered the fusion of European classical music with jazz, served as a music educator, sponsored young, unknown musicians in their first recordings, organized a series of recordings that presented veteran jazz musicians in unusual and favorable circumstances, and accompanied horn players and singers on piano. He attained the highest level in all these activities. Because of his understated style he is often overlooked as a piano soloist, but of course he excelled there as well. Evolution II, his last record, focuses on John Lewis, recomposer of his own music and piano soloist/spontaneous composer.
As always his piano lines are fresh, inspired, and uncrowded. (The secret of Lewis' music is preparation and space.) Lewis plays gorgeous introductions (another area of mastery) and tags to many of the pieces. The repertoire is variedmostly vintage Lewis pieces in new guises. Two have new titles: "The Festivals" was recorded as "In a Crowd" and "December, Remember" is based on "Winter's Tale." There are a couple of what I believe are new tunes"Cain and Abel" with an Old World flavor and "Sammy." "Afternoon in Paris" is taken brighter than usual but retains its bittersweet feel. The march section of "Trieste" has been transplanted to "Afternoon in Paris," a piece which also includes a some piano counterpoint and a lick from "The Marseilles." "Django" is presented over a staggering tango with the blues section heavily syncopated. "The Festivals" and "What Is This Thing Called Love" are more intense as Lewis cuts loose, driven by Lewis Nash. Lewis first recorded the classic blues "Parker's Mood" with Charlie Parker in 1948. If there was ever any doubt about Lewis' blues playing this cut settles that question.
The accompanying musicians do just that. They are all capable soloists, but here they "just" play with beauty and taste. (Johnson does take some breaks on the old-time blues "Sammy.") Collins and Alden play the dreaded rhythm guitar, but it's light and musical (Barry Galbraith)not that chunky feel big bands exploit to try to get themselves swinging.
John Lewis Discography:http://www.jazclass.aust.com/lewis1.htm#03
Track Listing: The Festivals; Parker's Mood; December, Remember; Afternoon in Paris; Cain and Abel; Come Rain or Come Shine; Trieste; Django; Sammy; What Is This Thing Called Love.
Personnel: John Lewis-piano; Howard Collins or Howard Alden - guitar; Marc Johnson or George Mraz - bass; Lewis Nash - drums.
I love jazz because next to my kids, it's the love of my life.
I was first exposed to jazz by Joe Rico from a tiny station in Niagara Falls in 1954 when I was 13.
The best show I ever attended was Maynard Ferguson who blew the roof off Massey Hall in the late 50s.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to everything you can and then listen again.