By Fred Kaplan
Resonance Records is emerging as the most vital jazz reissue house around—or, rather, not "reissue," for the music they put out has never been issued before: the producer Zev Feldman (or someone who contacts him) has found it in an unexamined vault, back room, or collectors' cove. The material is top-flight, the sound very good to excellent, and he often releases the albums on CD and LP. So far he has delivered some of the best albums ever by Larry Young, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, but Feldman holds a special regard for Bill Evans.
The final few years of Evans, who died in 1980 at age 51 of complications from drug addiction and other ailments, have been preserved entirely by posthumous discoveries: The Paris Concert (Elektra Musician), The Last Waltz and (Milestone), Turn Out the Stars (Nonesuch)—without these sunset gems, all live sessions, we'd think that Evans faded out with a string of dreary studio albums, some of them with electric piano. (For a sad but fascinating documentary of Evans' life and music, including many rare films clips, see Bruce Siegel's Time Remembered.)
Resonance is now filling in some blanks from Evans' middle years, the late 1960s, for which there's also a paucity of albums, or at least of very good ones. The best of the new stack is the latest, Another Time, recorded before a live audience in the studio of Netherlands Radio Union in Hilversum, outside Amsterdam, on June 22, 1968. Until this release, no one ever knew the tapes of this performance existed.
It is also one of just three albums featuring his trio with Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums—the others being The Montreux Concert (which was released by Verve at the time) and another Resonance discovery, put out two years ago, Some Other Time: The Lost Session in the Black Forest. The Hiversum set was the climax of the trio's three sessions we now know of—recorded two days after Some Other Time, five days after Montreux.
The Montreux Concert is widely considered one of Evans' best albums; some place it just behind his wondrous back-to-back 1961 sessions, Waltz for Debby and Sunday Afternoon at the Village Vanguard. I would put Another Time on the same level as Montreux, and the sound quality is nearly as good.
The Gomez-DeJohnette trio was by far his best since the '61 band with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, which was disrupted when LaFaro, 10 days after the Vanguard sets, died in a car accident, a tragedy from which Evans never quite recovered. (The '68 trio didn't last long either: soon after these sets, DeJohnette was recruited by Miles Davis; Gomez stayed on, but the subsequent drummers weren't quite as polyrhythmically sublime.) Evans himself, who'd dipped deeper into addiction after that event, is in fine form: elegiac, romantic, lyrical—all the adjectives usually attached to his pianism, but there's also a buoyancy and sometimes a fervent swing that his name doesn't so commonly evoke. And it's a joyous fervency, not the cocaine-fueled frenzy one hears on some of his last albums (eg, his 1980 Vanguard set, Turn Out the Stars).
Evans' most energetic albums seem to be the live ones. Some Other Time, the Resonance album recorded in a Black Forest studio, though mainly quite good, has passages of rote playing.
The sound quality on Another Time, the Hilversum concert (the similarity in titles is unfortunate), is superb on CD and better still on LP, unmatched by any other Evans albums except for Montreux and the better Riversides. Many years ago, the long-lamented Classic Records released an excellent limited-edition 45rpm remastering of Montreux, which sounded better than the original pressing; someone should think about a re-release.
Meanwhile, there's this, and Feldman tells me there are more excavated treasures to come.
Read more at:
You're Gonna Hear from Me; Very Early; Who Can I Turn To?; Alfie; Embraceable You; Emily; Nardis; Turn Out the Stars; Five.
Bill Evans: piano; Eddie Gomez: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.