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Bill Evans: Inner Spirit

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Bill Evans: Inner Spirit
Tension-filled Buenos Aires seemed to bring the best out of Bill Evans. This 1979 live performance at the Teatro General San Martin is as energized as the Argentinian city was polarized. Six years earlier, Evans had played the city in trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, amidst dangerous political terror. The trio was immune to the chaos and was treated with respect, if not jubilation, at the prospect of hearing them perform. That performance, captured on Morning Glory (Resonance Records, 2022), was triumphant in a host of ways. It came as little surprise then that Evans returned in 1979 amidst an even higher degree of unrest and dissidence. This time he was flanked by bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe La Barbera.The three were protected from the violence and treated as royalty. Their mere presence brought an air of joy and positivity to a city longing for such.

Evans opened the show solo on the classic "Stella By Starlight." His almost avant-garde interpretation was ultimately joined by Johnson and La Barbera and taken to its seamless fruition. Inner Spirit is an appropriate title for this concert recording, as there was an almost indescribable energy in the air which was shared between the audience and the artists. Stella was followed by a new leading lady. Evans composition "Laurie" was properly introduced and well received by a most appreciative crowd. The song was written for the woman from Canada that Evans met late in his life, who was his caretaker until his death about a year after this performance. Lightening the mood, Evans then unearthed "The theme from MASH." The trio improvised the piece with only the familiar melody line being repeated a couple of times. The song had been recorded in 1977 but was not released until later, on the album You Must Remember Spring (Warner Brothers, 1981). An earlier Evans composition, "Turn Out The Stars," connected well. Evans, seemingly nostalgic in the moment, pulling the tune he had recorded in 1967, but not released until years later, on California Here I Come (Verve,1982).

The audience was very supportive and seemed as much in the zone as the trio. This crowd was exuberant in their responses between songs. It should be noted that they were as quiet as church mice, in true appreciation, when the trio was playing, Consequently, Evans resisted the notion of kicking things up just yet, instead rolling into a luscious take on "I Do It For Your Love." The Paul Simon penned tune was reimagined in heart-warming fashion. "My Romance," the Rodgers and Hart tune, which had long been part of Evans' repertoire, was reinforced beautifully by Johnson and La Barbera. If the moment wasn't sentimental enough already, Evans brought tears to the eyes of many with a most moving rendition of "Letter To Evan." Evans had written the song for, or perhaps better said to, his son only recently. It becomes that much more poignant with the realization that Evans passed away less than a year later.

"I Loves You, Porgy" was another standard which Evans loved to perform, having first recorded it for Waltz For Debby (Riverside, 1962). It was omitted from that record due to space, but later recorded on live records. Here, tightly intertwined with his rhythm section, it was an unlikely springboard to the more up-tempo tunes which just had to be coming. They glided into swing with "Up With The Lark." Pretty much a staple on most Evans live recordings, this take was notable. Perhaps it was just that they had memorized the audience to this point and the Lark just burst out like gangbusters. It is hard to imagine a rhythm section tighter and more in sync with each other than Johnson and La Barbera, They seem to fit like a glove on every tune. The Brazilian tune "Minna (All Mine)" was warmly received. It perhaps touched them on a personal level. Evans had included the South American tune as a gift to a most appreciative audience going through a very trying time. Evans had long been known for his playing reaching people in a deep and personal way. This night Evans was particularly in that mood as he then led into "Someday My Prince Will Come." A jazz standard recorded by many, including Evans on Portrait In Jazz (Riverside 1960), was played with impact by the trio. It was a show stopper. Only it wasn't because the abundant cheers brought them back. A light-hearted, but fun and upbeat version of "If You Could See Me Now," takes on even more meaning when you now know that Evans was near the end. He was celebrating his career and his life in the best way he knew how.

There were no signs of Evans being on the decline or ill in anyway. He played brilliantly. As did Marc Johnson and Joe La Barbera. In fact, this rhythm section was Evans' last and perhaps took the explorations to their furthest reach. The conceptions so finely in place from the beginning with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro. This terrific show concluded with a seventeen minutes plus take on the Miles Davis classic "Nardis." Evans took long and winding solos that led in infinite directions, while La Barbera and Johnson each stretched out superbly in solos. The breath-taking conclusion is nothing short of sensational. Inner Spirit surely captured the essence of Bill Evans as a jazz pianist and in the connection he made with all who have listened.

Track Listing

Stella By Starlight; Laurie; Theme from MASH; 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 La Barbera: drums.

Album information

Title: Inner Spirit | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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