I have always been a firm believer that Bill Evans' most sensitive recording period spans from June 25, 1961 to February 3, 1965. (This would exclude, of course, Evans' disastrous Plays the Theme From the VIPs and Other Great Songs from May 1963, an album that's also likely arranger Claus Ogerman's biggest mistake.)
For me, Evans' 3 1/2-year sweet spot starts with Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside) and ends with Trio '65 (Verve). During this golden epoch, Evans' touch was delicate, swingy, sensitive and deeply poetic. Albums that predate Sunday sound a tad half-baked or too work-in-progress-y. Albums that follow Trio '65 tend to be increasingly cold, grim and even agitated—and frequently bereft of Evans' former beauty and touch.
But after listening all day yesterday to Bill Evans Trio: Live in Paris 1965 (LoneHill), I am expanding my prime Evans zone by 10 days—to February 13, 1965. Evans is accompanied on this live CD recording by Chuck Israels on bass and Larry Bunker on drums. The Bill Evans Trio here sounds as good as the one that recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1961—if not better.
"Hot on the heels of its first European tour, the same Bill Evans trio embarked on another. This time the group was broadcast from the Maison de l'ORTIF in Paris, the first in a line of recordings over the years from Radio France.
Evans may not have sanctioned the issue of these performances, but he does sound happy to be playing on the occasion, and one track is exceptional. Only an artist who felt at home in the venue and comfortable with his audience would take Some Other Time quite as slow as this.
The indulgence in extreme tempo was reflected in the dynamic level—at times pianissimo. This was communication by implication. A wondrous thing happened; the more densely Evans packed in harmonic 'information,' the softer he played it and the more expressive it became.
Another jazz pianist who really cared about his sound was George Shearing, and Evans valued his quality of touch, especially in pianissimo. 'I learned a great lesson listening to George Shearing play Tenderly one night at The Embers in New York,' Evans said. 'He managed to keep that club quiet—no mean achievement.'
For this tour, Chuck Israels had acquired a set of metal strings, and he played with a new confidence, especially in the higher register. With Israels aloft and in duet with Evans' right-hand lines, an exciting counterpoint resulted, something that had been in the cards ever since the bassist had joined the group. Suddenly he was transformed into a linchpin—and more surprisingly perhaps, a devote of the limelight.
The French capital was to become one of the pianist's favorite places to play, and over the next 15 years he nurtured a special rapport with his audience there."
Has there ever been a better Bill Evans recording of Elsa? I can't think of one. Listen to that dramatic, dark intro on Elsa evolve, unwind, pick up speed and emerge as a breezy waltz. I Should Care hands-down is Evans' best version of the tune, with a solo intro that I found myself listening to over and over again.
How Deep Is the Ocean here is a stronger, more confident
swinger than Evans' previous versions. Listen to those magnificent chord choices and how he plays musical tag with Chuck Israels. And how about Larry Bunker's versatile drumming?
If you're a Bill Evans fan and don't own this album yet or are unfamiliar with it—buy it. I can't recall the last time I heard a Bill Evans album that was this delicate and rich with eager energy.
JazzWax tracks: Bill Evans Trio: Live in Paris, 1965 was released in May 2007, so its existence may not be news to you. What you may not be aware of, however, is that tucked onto this CD are three bonus tracks that were not recorded in Paris.
Gloria's Step, Haunted Heart and Nardis are from a Birdland gig on February 10, 1962 that featured Evans, Israels and Paul Motian on drums. Symphony Sid is the announcer. These are staggeringly dramatic and introspective, particularly Nardis.
The CD is not available at iTunes but it can be found here.
JazzWax video clips: Most of the clips on the web of Bill Evans' 1965 European tour are from his London and Berlin appearances. They were captured at concerts or during pained TV appearances.
To my ear, Evans' playing on these clips sounds a bit stiff and frightened compared to the relaxed nature of his performances on the Paris CD. That may have something to do with the distraction of TV cameras rolling around and somewhat baffled audiences, which in some cases already seem to be musically distracted by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
JazzWax thanks: A special thanks to David Brent Johnson of WFIU's Night Lights, who brought this album to my attention and insisted—even after I begged that I had my fill of live Evans CDs.