Bill Evans ‘Evans In England’ 2LP-RSD/2CD (Resonance) 3/5

One naturally dabbles with a variety of musicians throughout their listening life, discovering and overlooking great works, and artists for that matter, in a personal quest for enjoyment. We pursue particular instruments we enjoy, record labels that present consistency or artists themselves. We each follow a path, and nobody should be judged for their musical choices along that individual journey. Just as there are fanatics, there are equal quantities of cynics, whether it be the disco era, jazz-fusion, electric Miles, avant-guard – it’s really just about how it makes you feel, and to be blunt, everyone else can go to hell. For me, live music is where maximum enjoyment comes from, with live recordings ranking high when produced to such a high level that you are transported to a given moment in time. The energy filters through from stage to the here and now from said record. For me though, even with 200+ albums available, the work of Bill Evans rarely raised its head along that personal 35-year stroll. My first experience would surely have been on Miles Davis’ groundbreaking ‘Kind Of Blue’, then through researching Jazz 625, where Evans’ trio in 1965 included Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker. It was from those recordings that I first heard ‘Elsa’, ‘My Foolish Heart’, ‘Who Can I Turn To’ and ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, compositions featured here some two years later. Jazz 625 proved very educational, though the recording quality was, in most parts, bright and poor – more visually exciting I suppose. But although his sensitive playing could rarely be questioned, when the sign post ahead read Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Ahmad Jamal, Andrew Hill and Horace Silver, the feet never took me to Bill’s street, and so it is with regret in parts that this latest archival release from the acclaimed Resonance label finds my naivety for who clearly many regard highly in jazz’s ivory cul-de-sac.

At the time of this previously unreleased December 1969 Ronnie Scott’s live date, Evans had released over 20 studio albums (his 1956 ‘Speak Low’ had just been reissued on Riverside, described as “probably the best jazz piano LP of the 50s by Jazz Monthly’s Brian Priestley) and 2 live albums; had notably worked alongside George Russell, Gary McFarland and Cannonball Adderley before joining Edgar ‘Eddie’ Gómez on his debut appearance on ‘A Simple Matter Of Conviction’ for Verve records in 1966; a partnership that would last many years beside Marty Morrell in the well-documented trio to hand. We are presented with 18 pieces of music, many standards, at a period when London would have been familiar turf for pianists Stan Tracey, Dudley Moore and Michael Garrick. Ronnie Scott’s themselves were celebrating 10 years in the live music business. But what can we expect with a recording off a portable machine using a single microphone from a punter in the audience? Even with today’s sophisticated mastering facilities, which Resonance clearly have access too, this is still rather flat -particularly in the case of ‘So What’- in comparison to professionally recorded works to which one shouldn’t overlook in a time when we are exposed to more and more ‘archival’ releases than ever. There are thoughtful arrangements in abundance across the two discs; on ‘Re: Person I Knew’, the bass of Gómez is prominent and a welcome relief to the set. ‘Very Early’ swings and something of a highlight while ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ is one of the better numbers to be preserved; the subtle playing captured with all its refinements. This release, therefore, has its ups and downs with quality; the enjoyment level for me is a little too hit a miss although admittedly, the whole package is somewhat hard to fault, embellished with detailed liner notes, essays, rare photos and interviews all raising the stakes in the ‘need to have’ categories.

For those keeping a close eye on the label’s release schedule, ‘Some Other Time – The Lost Session from the Black Forest’ from 2016 and ‘Another Time: The Hilversum Concert’ from 2017 will be familiar terrain. The latter, with the inclusion of ‘Emily’ and ‘Nardis’ have been highlights in the rediscovery of Bill Evans’ works for this writer. Putting something on the turntable that is a ‘new’ album, I feel a closer bond than picking up a second-hand album that’s familiar to many – I’m hearing it when everyone else is for the first time, and that impacts significantly on my psyche. So in the many years of side-stepping the work of Bill Evans, this three-year discovery has opened up doors into other albums, and isn’t that how we discover great music? Applauding Resonance for their attention to detail and commitment to both the Bill Evans’ estate and the buying public pays dividends. So the sound isn’t as great as we would like, but then we are listing to history here and having that available is far more important in understanding the path these great musicians took.

Steve Williams

Read also:
Bill Evans ‘Some Other Time – The Lost Session from the Black Forest’ 2CD (Resonance) 5/5
Bill Evans ‘Another Time: The Hilversum Concert’ LP/CD (Resonance) 4/5