It takes a lot of courage for a pianist to take on Bill Evans. It requires even more courage for that pianist to overdub himself recording Evans' songs. After all, any pianist who would attempt such a thing would be asking for a ton of trouble. Evans fans are pretty particular, passionate and protective of the late pianist and have a low tolerance for intruders. Unless, of course, a pianist paying tribute to Evans actually pulled it off. Alan Pasqua does just that on Twin Bill: Two Piano Music of Bill Evans.
But let's back up. I generally don't care for Evans tribute albums. My feeling is Evans aced everything he recorded, and the last thing I generally want to hear is someone else's interpretation of his definitive versions. So I was already suspect when I spied Pasqua's album title.
Next is the double-decker gimmick. Evans recorded three albums in which he overdubbed himself using multitrack recording techniques—Conversations with Myself (1963), Further Conversations with Myself (1967) and New Conversations (1978). So the fact that Pasqua was trying to pull off something akin to Yet Even Further New Conversations seemed a bit galling—like breaking into a museum and putting your feet up on an exhibit's furniture.
Flipping the CD over, I noticed that the track list included Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Vindarna Sucka Uti Skogarna and Grace—songs that Bill Evans never recorded. Now, I thought, we were into appalling territory. This would be our museum chap breaking out a tuna sandwich.
Furiously tearing open the plastic, I slipped on the CD, fully expecting to hit eject after about eight bars into the first track. But a funny thing happened on the way to the trash. I actually loved what I heard.
Pasqua manages to pull off his triple play by employing crystal clear reverence for Evans and his lyrical space-swing technique. These tracks aren't ape jobs, in which a pianist does his or her best to sound as though they are playing Evans transcriptions. Instead, they are solid, reverential interpretations that live inside Evans' style and soul.
From Very Early and Gloria's Step to Nardis and Interplay, Pasqua delivers a full, lush Evans tribute. In his overdubs, Pasqua focused less on attempting the complex, fairy-delicate musical dialogues that Evans pulled off in his Conversations albums. Rather, Pasqua wisely uses the overdub to give this music heft and dynamism, always mindful of Evans' sensitivity and style.
As for Take Me Out to the Ballgame, it actually works. Evans, of course, wasn't above vamping children's songs or radio jingles. He had great fun recording Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Little Lulu and the WNEW Theme in the '60s. Pasqua plays Ballgame as a waltz, and darned if his harmony choices don't sound like Evans himself. Pasqua leaves the listener feeling as though the master himself were sitting at the keyboard, his head bent over, his eyes closed. [Photo of Bill Evans in 1965 by Roberto Polillo]
Oh, one more thing. Pasqua bravely left himself open on yet a fourth front. Did I mention that this is a solo album?
Who is Alan Pasqua? The pianist played with The New Tony Williams Lifetime and recorded with Bob Dylan. He wrote the CBS Evening News theme and currently is chair of Jazz Studies, Associate Professor, at the University of Southern California. More at Wikipedia.
JazzWax clip: Here's a clip of Pasqua's Highway 14 from his 2005 album, My New Old Friend...