Blue Notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 July, 2012, 12:00am


Resonance Records is continuing what looks set to be an impressive programme of releases of 'lost tape' CDs by major jazz artists.

Following on from Echoes of Indiana Avenue - a superb CD of never previously released early Wes Montgomery recordings - we now have Bill Evans Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of The Gate, a double-CD set featuring the Bill Evans Trio performing live in October 1968.

The format is the same as that used for the Montgomery release. At a time when more and more people are downloading music rather than buying CDs this is a package worth owning, with an excellent booklet of scholarly liner notes including contributions from the two surviving members of the ensemble.

For those who no longer want CDs on their shelves, however, the music, text and images are all available as a digital download from

Bill Evans was one of the most important and influential pianists in jazz. He is now generally acknowledged to have been the co-architect with Miles Davis of Kind of Blue, one of the music's greatest and most enduring landmark recordings.

Many critics consider his two live albums recorded in 1961 - Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby, both recorded on the same day - to be almost as important.

This collection is not quite at that level, and Evans was extensively recorded after the Village Vanguard residency - although never again with the same trio. Bassist Scott LaFaro was killed l1 days later when his car skidded into a tree.

Evans, LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian had redefined the creative scope of the jazz piano trio, particularly in terms of the interplay between the piano and bass. The intensity and complexity of that interaction placed unprecedented demands on the drummer, requiring an expressive contribution that often had little to do with the traditional timekeeping role.

After LaFaro's death the magic proved hard to recapture. A trio retaining Motian but with bassist Chuck Israels was fine in its own right, as was a subsequent line-up with Israels and drummer Larry Bunker, and Evans also recorded in other formats.

It was not until he discovered bassist Eddie Gomez in 1966, however, that the Bill Evans Trio really began to excel again. Three albums were released in rapid succession, each featuring a stellar drummer - Shelly Manne on A Simple Matter of Conviction, Philly Joe Jones on California Here I Come, and Jack DeJohnette on Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival. All hard acts to follow.

By the time this tape was recorded, Gomez had settled into his bassman's role and was working with Evans on a level comparable to his partnership with LaFaro. Drummer Marty Morell, however, had only joined the trio that same week. He stayed for six years and became Evans' longest serving drummer. One of the things that makes these recordings special is the freshness of two virtuosi, used to each other's moves and at the top of their respective games, playing with a new partner.

Another is the intimacy of the sound. Neither the usual amateur tape made from the back of a club with one microphone, nor a professional album commissioned by a record company that excluded all ambient sound, this is an exceptional airshot.

The tape was made by George Klabin, a 22-year-old student, for broadcast on Columbia University's radio station, on which it was aired once before being filed away in a private archive. He had the use of a professional quality two track reel-to-reel tape recorder, and seems to have had a professional audio engineer's understanding of the art of microphone placement.

Although there is only one original here - Evans' lovely Turn Out the Stars - several of the standards are the earliest-known Evans Trio renditions, among them My Funny Valentine, Here's That Rainy Day and Yesterdays.

In the 1960s it was usual to play to two houses on the same night, so although both these sets - like those at the Village Vanguard - were recorded on the same night, there is some overlap of repertoire. We get two versions each of Emily, Yesterdays and 'Round Midnight - each illuminatingly different.

You can't have too much Bill Evans in your music collection, in whatever format, and this is a worthwhile acquisition. It will be most interesting to see what Resonance, still just four years old, comes up with next.

Take Three

Three other CDs worth checking out from Resonance Records.

To Jobim With Love (2008): Resonance records new music as well as release rare archive material. Toninho Horta, who Pat Metheny calls 'the Herbie Hancock of bossa nova guitarists', pays tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim with the assistance of an all-star cast including Gary Peacock, Bob Mintzer and Manolo Badrena.

Pieces of Jade (2009): a valuable insight into the bass playing of Scott LaFaro, which includes a recording of a practice session with Bill Evans, and five recordings made in 1961 with pianist Don Friedman and drummer Pete La Roca.

Out of the Blue (2010): jazz violinist Christian Howes - who appeared in Hong Kong at The Skylark Lounge in 2010 - on a fine blues-drenched set which also features blues and jazz guitarist Robben Ford.