It would be impossible to overstate Bill Evans' place and importance in jazz…or in music period. Anyone inclined to debate the point would be extremely hard put to defend his territory. My fave keyboardist is Keith Jarrett, and I'd be fighting for my life if I had to argue my choice in a roundtable with any aficionado of Bill's. The guy was a phenomenon with a suppleness that defied description and a coolness that was unflappable, a gentleman born to outclass everyone merely by his very existance. In classical music, it was Glenn Gould; in jazz, it was Bill Evans. This set of performances spanning a little over a decade shows why.
Evans was always completely concentrated into his music. Somber and in fact often almost funereal in aspect, the world existed in his hands, and he ceded everything to them. One could see the transfer physically. Only someone willing to play in that way could embody the million and one subtleties Evans displayed as a matter of natural course, from impeccable volume control and dynamics to brilliant clusters of improv that seemed too knowing, pre-scripted, part and parcel of the writing, impossible to be the spontaniety they were. And his transitions in speed and tone! Panthers and gazelles cannot move more gracefully. Following Evans's workouts demands close attention, requiring the concentrated focus of the audience, and the crowds here are extremely enthusiastic. There's an intensity of feeling in their response that's life affirming, graphically illustrating the power of witnessing masterful art.
Evans allows his backing players lots of room, and they return the favor by emitting solos that further provoke listeners to newer heights of involvement. Whether it's Lee Konitz, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Eddie Gomez, or whomever, there's an Úlan present that sweeps out over the attendees. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of it all is the fact that Evans always took a gentler path. Even at his most energetic, there was a care for nuance, an extension of his inner being that forever stated itself in balladic tones and sophisticated restraints. His reading of Alfie completely transforms the composition, wringing classical elements from pop while improv-ing and pushing the tune onto a higher plane.
Speaking of pop, though bassist Eddie Gomez would later make ill-fated decisions to head into those pastures, here he's stunning, complementary to Evans while sometimes running ahead of him, an unusual position for a bass player to take. Nonetheless, it invigorates the piano player to a new perspective and subtly transforms his voicing and direction, something one must be convinced he relished. Perhaps even more interestng is to watch, as the years pass and social and artistic cultures free up, Evans' hair gets longer and his acumen ever deeper, almost on a one-for-one basis. By the time we get to the rarely performed Sareen Jurer, the level of complexity is overwhelming. Thus, unlike others in the video series, the Bill Evans release is a record of change and development rather than an arresting snaphot in time.
Links to the reviews of the other DVDs in this set:
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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