Saturday, April 2, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

Bill Evans at The Montreux Jazz Festival

Bill Evans

Verve/Speakers Corner V6-8762 180g LP
Produced by: Helen Keane
Engineered by: Pierre Grandjean and John-Claude Martin
Mixed by: Bob Schwartz
Mastered by: Maarten De Boer at UMG Berliner



Bill Evans 1968 Backed By Gomez and DeJohnette
by Michael Fremer
April 01, 2011

You could argue the advisability of naming a sophomore effort Everybody Digs Bill Evans but today it’s clear that everybody in fact does, or still does depending on your feelings about that second album’s title.

Evans is still revered by jazz fans generally and jazz fans who are audiophiles in particular, judging by all of the vinyl reissue action.

An enduring live set from The Montreux Jazz Festival recorded June 15th, 1968 has Evans joined in the short-lived trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Gomez was with Evans for a decade plus, but Miles Davis wanted DeJohnette.

This is the only recording of DeJohnette playing with Evans and Gomez. The early years of Evan’s post Riverside period were tumultuous with frequency personnel changes as Evans dealt with his drug addiction.

How long ago was 1968? Consider Gene Lee’s liner notes that reference “Lolita” novelist Vladimir Nabakov, Charlie Chaplain and James Mason, all of whom “live” nearby.

This album finds Evans in a more exuberant, less introspective mood. Evan his balladry on “I Love You Porgy” (which inexplicably places Evan’s piano on the opposite side of the stage from where he plays for the rest of the set) starts moving towards a celebratory tone not usually associated with the tender tune.

The almost hour long set includes two Evans originals—“One For Helen” dedicated to his long time manager Helen Keane and “Walkin’ Up” (misnamed “Walking’ Up” on this reissue’s label). Other than a rendering of Miles’ “Nardis” that was a live concert staple for Evans, the rest consists of re-workings of well-known standards, which was an Evans specialty.

Gomez plays aggressively from center stage with greater percussive thrust than did Scott LaFaro and DeJohnette’s playing is endlessly inventive—particularly his brush and cymbal work— without being distracting.

The recording quality is quite good: closely miked and not an attempt to put you at the concert unless you were sitting onstage a few feet from the musicians. DeJohnette’s drum kit occupies the right channel (except on his superb solo on "Nardis" where the engineer wisely gives him more space), Gomez is center stage and Evan’s piano is to his right and spreads convincingly from center-right stage outward.

Original pressings sound messy, boxy and indistinct compared to this Speakers Corner reissue and an earlier, out of print one at 33 1/3 from Classic Records. They don’t sound identical but close enough (Classic no doubt had the original tape, Speakers Corner worked from a copy so the sound isn't quite as dynamic or "present" but it's still very good and far superior to the original pressing), with excellent instrumental timbres, particularly Evans' piano (though it doesn't sound like he was given the grandest grand) and both are well-pressed. Classic’s multi-LP 45rpm edition is something else again, but good luck finding one of those.

Not at the top of the Evans catalog but worthwhile nonetheless particularly since it’s the only recording of this trio with Jack DeJohnette.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

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