Spanish-based label Essential Classics are to be applauded for their excellent value two albums on one CD policy and their latest offering is a tasty pairing of the Bill Evans trio and the pianist as part of vibraphonist Dave Pike’s formation. Both recordings date from 1962 and historically this was a period of renewal for Evans after the tragic early death of bassist Scott La Faro. Several new formations were tested by Evans and on ‘Empathy’ the considerable skills of drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Monty Budwig are brought to bear and the sole suprise is that this is the only recorded example of this particular trio for they gel extremely well together. The album was also an early illustration of the Creed Taylor production technique and thankfully this recording is devoid of his later syrupy orchestrations. An essentially classic selection for the American songbook is on offer with a nine minute rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s ‘With a song in my heart’ featuring a lovely bass solo by Budwig and some gentle percussive accompaniment by Manne. An unusual time signature and blues inflections are two novel features of Irving Berlin’s ‘The Washington twist’ with even hints of a pre-Sidewinder piano vamp from Evans while soloing with his other hand. Evans’ predilection for covering numbers from musicals is showcased on ‘Danny Boy’ and he makes this tune his own. Here it is performed at an extra slow pace as the most delicate of ballads. By contrast a swinging rendition of Berlin’s ‘Lets go back to the waltz’ is a vehicle to hear the trio in full flow and the shifts in tempo make this a treat from start to finish.
The second album is unusual in that Bill Evans occupies the role of sideman and this at a time when he had only recently left the Miles Davis quintet. Indeed there is a definite nod to the modal innovations of ‘Kind of Blue’ on ‘Why not?’ which is both a verbal and musical riposte to ‘So what’ and a lovely flowing number that is the album’s centre piece. If Miles is evoked on the aforementioned piece, then ‘Veird blues’ has all the feel of the Modern Jazz Quartet in their prime and it is a pity that Evans did not record more with vibes (though another album with Herbie Mann, ‘Nirvana’ was indeed recorded). Perhaps overall the most convincing pieces are the slower ones and on the haunting ballad, ‘Wild is the wind’, Pike excels on the vibraphone while Evans displays a tenderness on piano that is his trademark. Both impress once more on Ellington’s ‘In a sentimental mood’ with a blues-inflected solo from Evans. The CD contains a bonus cut from a 1961 pairing of Cannoball Adderley and Bill Evans, ‘Goodbye’ which makes for exceptional value for money at just over seventy-seven minutes in total.