Bill Evans ‘New Jazz Conception’ (Poll Winners) 4/5

A much feted pianist and rightly so, this debut album affords us the opportunity to hear the young Bill Evans making his way in the recording studio with a steady rhythm section made up of Teddy Kotick on bass and Paul Motion on the drums. The 1956 date was a strong indication of what would become a glittering music career, culminating in the participation on ‘Kind of blue’, and the seminal live recordings at the Village Vanguard. Not surprisingly here, the young pianist was still developing as a composer and his focus was mainly on the American songbook which he would so delicately and expertly exploit throughout his subsequent career. The selection is revealing in displaying his reverence for the compositions of fellow pianists. These include the bop hues of Tadd Dameron on, ‘Our delight’, the stylish piece, ‘Conceptions’ by George Shearing, and even a jaunty take on Duke Ellington’s, ‘I got it bad and that ain’t good’. This writer’s personal favourites include Evans’ interpretation of Rodgers and Hart’s, ‘My romance’, a piece he would regularly revisit and Cole Porter’s, ‘I love you’. However, already, the pianist’s talent for writing a tune could be heard on the first ever, albeit tantalisingly brief rendition of, ‘Waltz for Debby’, a de facto signature tune for Evans. As a bonus, there are half a dozen extra tracks from a separate 1957 date with added musicians on guitar and vibraphone. Rounding out the excellent re-issue are original Downbeat review notes from Nat Hentoff.

Tim Stenhouse