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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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BILL EVANS

The Way To Play

Properbox 169 (4 CD set)

 

 

CD1
1. I Love You
2. Five
3. Conception
4. Easy Living
5. Displacement
6. Speak Low
7. Our Delight
8. No Cover, No Minimum (Take 2)
9. I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good
10. Waltz For Debby
11. My Romance
12. Minority
13. Young And Foolish
14. Night And Day
15. Oleo
16. Tenderly
17. What Is There To Say
19. Peace Piece
 
Tracks 1-11
Bill Evans - Piano
Teddy Kotick - Bass
Paul Motian - Drums
 
Tracks 12-19
Bill Evans - Piano
Sam Jones - Bass
Philly Joe Jones - Drums

CD2
1. Lucky To Be Me
2. Epilogue
3. Honeysuckle Rose
4. As Time Goes By
5. The Way You Look Tonight
6. It Could Happen To You
7. The Man I Love
8. I Got Rhythm
9. Peri's Scope
10. Witchcraft
11. Spring Is Here
12. What Is This Thing Called Love?
13. Come Rain Or Come Shine
14. Blue In Green
15. Autumn Leaves
 
Tracks 1, 2
Bill Evans - Piano
Sam Jones - Bass
Philly Joe Jones - Drums
 
Tracks 3-8
Bill Evans - Piano
Bob Brookmeyer - Piano
Percy Heath - Bass
Connie Kay - Drums
 
Tracks 9-15
Bill Evans - Piano
Scott LaFaro - Bass
Paul Motian - Drums
 
CD3
1. Someday My Prince Will Come
2. When I Fall In Love
3. Autumn Leaves
4. Our Delight
5. Beautiful Love/Five (closing theme)
6. Come Rain Or Come Shine
7. Blue In Green
8. Israel
9. Haunted Heart
10. Beautiful Love
11. Elsa
12. Nardis
13. How Deep Is The Ocean?
14. I Wish I Knew
15. Sweet And Lovely
 
Bill Evans - Piano
Scott LaFaro - Bass
Paul Motian - Drums
 
CD4
1. My Foolish Heart
2. My Romance
3. Some Other Time
4. Solar
5. Gloria's Step
6. My Man's Gone Now
7. All Of You
8. Alice in Wonderland
9. Milestones
10. Detour Ahead
11. Waltz For Debby
12. Jade Visions
 
Bill Evans - Piano
Scott LaFaro - Bass
Paul Motian - Drums

 

Does the jazz record-buying public need another Bill Evans box set? Well, according to the folks at Properbox they do, as they have recently released a beautifully designed four-disc box set, including a detailed 24 page booklet written by a Dutch-born songwriter Joop Visser.

The recordings here come principally from Evans relationship with Riverside Records and have been issued previously as single albums, as well as a Riverside box set under Bill Evans: The Complete Riverside Recordings. The Riverside albums from which this Properbox was selected are: New Jazz Conceptions; Everybody Digs Bill Evans; Portrait In Jazz; Explorations; Sunday At The Village Vanguard; Waltz For Debby. The other albums are a United Artist release called The Ivory Hunters and a couple of tracks from two bootlegs A Rare Original and Hooray For Bill Evans recorded from radio broadcasts from Birdland in New York. All these titles cover the period 1956 to 1961.

Over the years, those Evans Riverside releases have been reviewed, dissected, parsed, and generally discussed so that there is little new that a reviewer could contribute to the understanding of the music produced by this tragic figure. So it may be more useful to put some context around the trio recordings and, later in this review, some comments about The Ivory Hunters.

In 1956 at the time of the first trio recording New Jazz Conceptions, Evans had been back in New York since 1955 after a period in the Army and in Florida where his parents lived. He made his first recording in 1955 when he backed bassist and singer Lucy Reed on a project for Fantasy Records. On his own album, although it received good reviews and the outing demonstrated a very talented and stylish contemporary pianist, sales were meagre at only 800 units during the first year. Accordingly Riverside was not anxious to bring him back into the studio and it took until December 1958 for that to happen.

In the interim, Evans continued to be a very active sideman, recording with George Russell, Tony Scott, Don Elliott and Eddie Costa among others. Spring of 1958 brought developments to Evans that not only transformed his life professionally but also personally. Miles Davis wanted to make changes in his band, looking to replace pianist Red Garland and eventually drummer Philly Joe Jones, due primarily to reliability and drug-related issues. Evans took over for Garland, and ultimately Jimmy Cobb for Philly Joe. However, as author Peter Pettinger explains in his biography Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, Jones remained long enough with the Davis band during the early part of Evans' stay, that he introduced him to heroin and "Bill and Philly Joe became great junk-buddies over the years". Thus Evans began an almost continuous drug addiction, firstly to heroin and later on cocaine, the effects of which ultimately consumed his life. At the time of his death on September 15, 1980 at age 51, Gene Lees the author and composer said that Evans' addiction was:"The longest suicide in history".

So, after a period of playing and recording with Miles Davis, thereby gaining in self-confidence and reputation, Evans returned to the Riverside studios in December 1958 for another trio recording and it was not just fortuitous that he had Philly Joe Jones on drums. Subsequent to this session in January 1959, Metronome did a profile on Evans which said as follows: "The future certainly promises much for Bill Evans. We feel that within a few years he will have an international fame serving as an influence in his own right".

The concept of bringing together two disparate musicians such as Bill Evans and Bob Brookmeyer for a recording appeared to be fraught with potential problems. However, in March 1959 when it occurred, the results turned out to be surprisingly celebratory and the session was released under the title The Ivory Hunters. Taking advantage of nascent stereo technology, the recording featured Bill Evans on the right listening channel and Brookmeyer on the left. Supplementing the two principals was the rhythm section of the Modern Jazz Quartet; Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums. Since Brookmeyer originally started out as a piano player, not a valve trombonist, he had a natural affinity for the instrument and was not intimidated by facing off against Evans. The track list consisted entirely of standards, but the interpretations were anything but. This album has long been a challenge to locate and Properbox are to be commended for including it as part of this set.

Shortly after concluding this album, Evans began his final stay with Miles Davis, taking part in the historic recording Kind Of Blue. Following that, Evans started in earnest on his search to put together a trio on which to build a career as a leader. He was looking for players who were not just time-keepers but instrumentalists, who would not only have their own voice, but would be able to express themselves through interplay with the other members of the group. In bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, Evans believed these two would be ideal collaborators. The remainder of the tracks in this box set is devoted to this trio and represents almost all their recorded output minus a few cuts from the bootleg sets.

This iteration of the Evans trio grew in stature, integration, imagination and complexity from album to album with the apotheosis being the June 25, 1961 Village Vanguard sessions. As fate would have it, this was the final recording of the trio. The playing throughout these albums is excitingly vibrant, with the members establishing a new definition for piano trios. They became, in a short period, one of the most significant jazz groups in history.

Any jazz fan looking to capture an aural history of one of the greatest small groups in jazz, at a reasonable price, this box set presents an ideal opportunity.

Pierre Giroux



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