Bill Evans ‘Symbiosis’ (MPS) 4/5

As part of the extensive re-investigation of this wonderful label from the Bavarian black forest, a trio plus extended brass album by the one and only Bill Evans. If the psychedelic orange cover hints at something slightly more avant-garde, then the music contained within is utterly timeless and in keeping with his canon of work, which in practice means a firm emphasis on the highest quality of music, with the deftest of touches, and a gentle nod to the classical influences of Debussy and Ravel, among others. The recording is noteworthy also because it reunited Evans in 1974 with composer and arranger Claus Ogerman who had first collaborated with the pianist on a 1965 Verve album recording and this proved to be their third and ultimately final collaboration, and what a fitting and stunning finale. Making up the rest of the rhythm section are Marty Morell on drums, Eddie Gomez on bass while Evans himself alternates between acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. An extended brass line-up includes Jerry Dodgion, Hubert Laws and Phil Woods, with Ralph MacDonald beefing up the percussion.

Divided up into two major movements, this has the detailed preparation of a classical symphony, even if the execution is wholly improvised jazz. The music transcends several contrasting moods and in some respects, the Tranquillo of the second movement (Largo) serves as a means of releasing the tension that builds up in the first. Orchestra and piano oscillate and work in tandem on various parts, and Evans is truly in his element on the second movement. Great credit is due to Ogerman for such an impressive orchestral arrangement and this enables Evans to concentrate on establishing the main themes and to truly thrilling effect.

As with the other re-issues in the series, superb attention to detail in terms of the sleeve covers and overall both the presentation and impeccable quality of sound are on a par with Japanese re-issues. For some this is an album that will require several listens, especially if you are accustomed to the smaller group settings in which Evans normally operated. For others, it is quite simply their favourite Bill Evans recording of all-time and it is a serious contender. This reviewer rates it only marginally below a five, given the superlative live trio recordings that are his finest recordings of all. The good news is that with repeated listening, the album more than repays the investment of time and it is one of Evans’ most impressive studio albums.

Tim Stenhouse