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Like a Man Reborn,
This review is from: The Brilliant/Consecration 1/Consecration 2 (Audio CD)
In the last year of his life, Bill Evans toured with what was to be his ‘last trio’. His partners – Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera– were talented musicians well suited to the more extrovert and overtly ‘brilliant’ kind of music Evans was now producing, and they supported and inspired him through a new creative phase, to the extent that he came to feel that this group was his best since his famous ‘first trio’ with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian. Although this ‘last trio’ never cut a studio album, since Evans’s death several live recordings have documented the magnificent music they had been producing.
From Aug. 31 to Sept. 7, 1980, the trio played at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner. It was a very successful engagement, but it proved to be the last that Evans completed. He was already in very poor health - though you wouldn’t know it from the performances - and eight days later he died. Fortunately, the sessions were recorded; and are available on two separate Milestone sets. The 8-CD box, ‘The Last Waltz’ contains the ‘second sets’ the trio performed on those nights. The ‘first sets’ appear in another 8-CD box titled ‘Consecration’. The trio played many of the same pieces in different sets, so that there is much repetition of titles (the Consecration box has 68 performances of 24 tunes). Also several of the titles are repeated on other sessions by this trio – for example, on the highly recommended ‘The Paris Concert’ of 1979, available on two separate CDs. There is obvious interest in comparing what a great jazz musician does with a theme in different performances, but it would be understandable if you thought the full Consecration box too much of a good thing.
Fortunately, in the case of the Consecration material there is an attractive alternative. The Timeless label has issued this selection, available either as three separate discs: ‘The Brilliant Bill Evans’, ‘Consecration 1’ and ‘Consecration 2’, or as this 3-CD set (the three CDs in their separate cases inside a quite sturdy card box). As a production it is very short on helpful information: each CD has the same rather inadequate liner note giving a run-down of Evans’s career but telling us nothing about the music on the disc. Among the inaccuracies, we are told that Evans died on 6th September, even though we are also told that he completed the Keystone Korner engagement two days later. There is no additional information in the 3-CD box. However, these three discs usefully bring together 22 of the 24 titles in the full Consecration collection, eliminating all but one repeated title, “Knit for Mary F”. I don’t know why this one is repeated, nor why “Who Can I Turn To?” and “But Beautiful” are not included. I also don’t know whether this 3-CD set selects the ‘best’ version in each case (which is anyway, of course, a matter of opinion); but they are all excellent performances, with the various aspects of the trio’s playing well represented, from the lyrical, intense and romantic ballad performances to the more extrovert and virtuosic up-tempo pieces.
What is particularly remarkable about these sessions is that under the circumstances Evans played so well – more like a man reborn than someone near the point of death. It’s also fortunate that most of the complete Consecration, and all of the material on these three CDs, is so well recorded. With this trio Evans exploited a wider range of the keyboard’s high to low registers (and a wider dynamic range) than in his earlier work; and this is well captured, along with the beauty, the variety of tone colour and the ‘singing’ qualities of his playing, even though it’s a live recording. One of the immediately striking differences from the early ‘first trio’ is Evans’s more energetic, uninhibited approach to the material. In his work with this trio he seems to revel in his own brilliance of technique and invention, and this shows itself not only in the vigorous, exuberant playing in the faster numbers such as “My Romance”, “You and the Night and the Music” and his engaging composition, “Bill’s Hit Tune” but also in the probing, exploratory and sometimes elaborate style he employs in slower pieces.
Those who, like me, have a particular fondness for the way Evans played “My Foolish Heart” on the 1961 Village Vanguard ‘Waltz for Debby’ album, and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” on the album, ‘Moonbeams’ will be interested to compare his more robust treatment of them here. While retaining the respect and affection he usually showed towards such ballads, he explores them rigorously with greater emphasis on reconstructing the tune rhythmically and harmonically, the pieces becoming more like pianistic ‘studies’ than the restrained, introspective reveries he made of them in his earlier manner. So the more subtle, ruminative sides of his musical persona, along with the familiar lyrical qualities in his playing, are well in evidence in these pieces and in beautiful readings of Paul Simon’s “I Do It For Your Love”, the haunting “Gary’s Theme” and Bill’s ballad compositions “Laurie”, “Two Lonely People” and “Your Story”.
Either the complete Consecration material, or this selection on 3 CDs, is highly recommended to anyone who likes Bill Evans’s music. There may be a price advantage to buying the three discs together in the box; otherwise, you have the option of sampling this music one disc at a time. What we now need is for Milestone to produce a similar selection from the other Keystone Korner sessions in the ‘Last Waltz’ collection. For example, the 16 titles that do not appear in the Consecration recordings would make an attractive 2-CD set to complement these three from the Consecration collection. In fact, Milestone could (but probably won’t) provide us with a 5-CD ‘Keystone Korner’ selection that selects all the 40 titles in the ‘Last Waltz’ and ‘Consecration’ collections. What a marvellous cornerstone to any Bill Evans collection that would be!