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Bill Evans: Homecoming

Douglas Payne By

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It seems virtually every one of piano great Bill Evans's (1929-80) performances were recorded during the last two years of his life, when he had his last - and arguably superior - trio with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbera. As more recordings continue to surface, it is evident that this was a most commanding unit.

What makes this November 1979 recording, issued here for the time, so special is that the Evans trio was captured upon the pianist's return to his alma mater, Southern Lousiana University. In a six-minute interview featured at the end of the disc, Evans bashfully says his last two years here (he graduated, with honors, in 1950) were the happiest of his life. Surely, the photos of the young Evans on the jacket reveal an exceedingly handsome, seemingly carefree young man who, while intriguingly introspective looking, still seemed unburdened by the demons which would claim him later on.

There is a relaxation about his playing here too: none of the return of the prodigal grandstanding, but rather a warm celebration of return (exactly as the title suggests). The program is fairly typical, featuring elucidation on the usual standards ("I Loves You Porgy," "Up With The Lark," "Someday My Prince Will Come"), familiar Evans tone poems ("Laurie," "Turn Out The Stars," "Very Early" and the Orrin Keepnews anagram song) and typical late-period Evans explorations (Johnny Mandel's "Song From M.A.S.H." and Paul Simon's "I Do It For You"). The menu is also peppered by interesting inquiries into Joe Zawinul's "Midnight Moods" and the little-known "Minha (All Mine)" by Francis Hime. But Evans is positively breezy throughout; flawless as always, but genuinely satisfied to be stirring the warm invitational his music provides to the audience. Johnson, afforded a lion's share of the solo space, is equally brisk and thoroughly melodic as he complements Evans glowing mettle.

Like last year's Half Moon Bay (from 1973), Homecoming is a rich, instructive insight into the genius of this already over-recorded piano wonder — for hardcore devotees and the mildly interested alike. It is also a tantalizing preface to Fantasy's upcoming six-CD set of Evans's last known recordings from this trio's August-September 1980 Keystone Korner gig. On its own, Homecoming is worth coming home to.

Songs:Re: Person I Knew; Midnight Mood; Laurie; Song From M.A.S.H. (Suicide is Painless); Turn Out The Stars; Very Early; But Beautiful; I Loves You, Porgy; Up With The Lark; Minha (All Mine); I Do It for You; Someday My Prince Will Come; Interview With Bill Evans by Rod Starns.

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

Title: Homecoming | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Birdology

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