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The Secret Sessions Box set, Live

4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Box set, Live, November 5, 1996
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$353.44 $125.00

Editorial Reviews

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"Bill [Evans] was being recorded once a year, if that," notes Mike Harris, who surreptitiously recorded all of the music found on this revelatory eight-CD collection, "and this incredible music was just going up in the air 363 days out of 365." Thanks to the sheer devotion (obsession?) of Harris, it wasn't. Harris and his wife were always front-and-center at New York's Village Vanguard whenever Evans brought his trio in for a run, tape machine humming. Evans was notoriously reluctant to record, so, moral issues aside, the release of secret Evans recordings carries even more weight than it would for nearly any other jazz musician. Evans always made bold decisions at the piano in terms of chord voicings and rhythmic innovation--these elements are on display across his body of recorded work. On this set, however, the music itself--the nature of the actual notes and chords that he chooses and the resulting "sound"--is often quite bold, as is his expression and execution (touch) of them. Long pigeonholed as a "cool" pianist, Evans even sounds like Bud Powell at moments! Of course, Evans's amazing beauty and subtlety is in boundless display as well. Spanning 1966 to 1975, the set features the technically stunning Eddie Gomez on bass for all but 8 of the 104 cuts, plus a rotation of seven drummers, each one pushing the music in new directions. Of special note are the nearly two discs' worth of 1967 material with the great Philly Joe Jones at the kit. Dating back to their very brief tenure together in Miles Davis's late-1950s sextet and also Evans's own albums like Everybody Digs and Interplay, the aggressive Jones seemed to inspire the pianist more than any other drummer. Also illuminating is the repetition of favorite numbers throughout the box; to hear Evans reinvent these songs (his own as well as standards) almost every year (if not every month) is nothing short of fascinating.

Like that of any other genre, jazz's history is written primarily by famous recordings, but since jazz is based on improvisation, its recorded history tells a mere fraction of the story. Evans's two classic 1961 Vanguard recordings--Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby--are considered by many to be some of the most wonderful piano-trio recordings in history, yet who's to say the trio (with Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro) didn't improve on them the next day or the next week or even the day before? This collection minimizes that risk, as it were, brilliantly showing the development and progression of a great musician. Evans's genius may be the least obvious of any jazz musician, but it emerges clearly and definitely throughout the course of these eight CDs. "You're never going to hear on record what you may hear live," Evans himself said shortly before passing away. "Our best performance is gone into the atmosphere. We never have really gotten on record that special peak that happens fairly often." Not true, thankfully. --Marc Greilsamer

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Disc 2
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Disc 3
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Disc 4
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Disc 5
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (November 5, 1996)
  • Original Release Date: November 15, 1996
  • Number of Discs: 8
  • Format: Box set, Live
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Milestone
  • ASIN: B000000XRN
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,822 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Amazon's Bill Evans Store

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Bill Evans was a master musician and a wonderful performer, but he had his fair share of personal issues to deal with and, unfortunately, he left the world much too soon. His performances on "The Secret Sessions" are unequivocally my favorite that ever have been released under his name. Ironically, he did not know that someone in the audience was taping him for these sessions. But, amazingly, that provided the perfect context for recording this rather gentle, beautiful spirit, because his "official" albums always sounded too self-conscious. Having these performances taped without his knowledge gives the listener the exact feeling of what it must have been like to hear him play on any given night. And the results are sublime--Bill Evans is such a passionate, soulful, sagacious player and improviser that you will be continually amazed at the decisions he makes on the piano.
Don't worry about the sound quality--it is actually excellent on all of the discs. Buy this to hear and enjoy the REAL Bill Evans.
1 Comment 32 of 33 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Bill Evans was often pigeonholed as a neo-romantic pianist who favored ballads. He was criticized for sounding like a "cocktail pianist" and generally not thought of as a high energy player. These live recordings show another side to this master of harmony and time displacement. There is a rhythmic drive not present in much of his studio work. It is improvised music of the highest caliber, displaying the usual Evans discipline, yet at the same time wildly visceral and spontaneous, filled with the joyful abandon of a master artist at the full peak of his powers.
The recordings being bootlegs, the quality is lacking. The piano is too far back and has a certain brittleness that sometimes detracts from the Evans tone, usually so gorgeous and bell-like. The drums are up front which can be overpowering at times, but we're not talking about an audiophile recording here. It's what's being played that's so amazing. Forget the imperfections: this is essential listening for anyone with a passion for Evans' singular musical vision.
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Don't let the comments on the sound quality put you off. Is it rough? Yes. It IS after all a bootleg. But to miss these performances for the sake of less than perfect sound would be criminal. This is without a doubt the best Bill Evans playing I've heard committed to disc.
As another reviewer here commented, these performances are totally lacking in the self-consciousness so present when he knew he was being recorded. These are a great document of Mr. Evans, and are indeed a testimony to his enormous skill as a musician.
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Make no mistake about it, these are bootleg recordings and they are of fairly raw sound quality. The piano is often boomy and distorted, the drums scratchy and the bass inaudible. There's also a lot of crowd noise (on the first disc there's a guy with a particularly "productive" cough). If you can tolerate all this, and you're going to need to be an Evans fanatic to do so, these are interesting recordings, but their interest is more archival than musical, I think.
1 Comment 24 of 29 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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The sound quality is not the best that the commercial recording companies would normally produce, but it is head and shoulders above the quality of many "bootlegs." The music quality rearely gets in the way. Rather than be put off by so many of the reviews here that express concern as to the sound quality, just give it a listen on the Amazon web-site. This should convince you that the sound quality should not put you off of these records.

I really love these performances. Evans consistently played wonderfully. Buy them before they are gone.
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