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A coarsened Bill Evans Trio, playing with urgency

JAZZ

The Bill Evans Trio, "On a Monday Evening" (Fantasy)

The hard and pitiless truth for some of us is that there are some instrumental jazz giants whose influence on others is greater for us than the attractions of their own playing i.e. it is more absorbing to listen to magnificent later jazz musicians play the music the influences made possible than that hugely influential music itself. As great a tenor saxophonist as Dexter Gordon was, I would rather listen to Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Booker Ervin, whom he made possible.

And as universally revered as Bill Evans is among jazz pianists, I would, almost every time a choice presented itself, opt for Keith Jarrett, Michel Petrucciani, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock in solo or trio over Evans, without whom none of them would have been remotely the same.

While it was admittedly the radical collective freedoms of Evans classic trio with Scott LeFaro and Paul Motian that changed forever what a jazz piano trio could -- and would -- do in jazz, it is the later Evens trio with Eddie Gomez (and, in this case Elliott Zigmund on drums) that actually began to develop a large jazz following.

There's no question that in response to '70s fusion, the Bill Evans who made this hitherto unreleased live concert recording in Madison, Wis. in 1976, had coarsened his music. But there's also no question that a couple of years later, in his final years (he died in 1980), his intimate acquaintance with mortality (from cirrhosis and untreated hepatitis) gave his playing a burn, a sometimes frantic urgency that hadn't been there when he was a piano poet bringing Debussy and Satie to jazz piano.

What's so good about this newly discovered treasure is the interplay between Evans and his bassist of 11 years, Eddie Gomez. At the very end, that burn -- that compulsion to get it all in before death -- was one of the great existential dramas to observe in that era's jazz.

That drama wasn't quite there yet in 1976. So the music sounds like a healthy response to a growing musical following. A very good Bill Evans record, in other words, without being with classic or dramatic.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

 

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