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This review is from: Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows (Audio CD)
Individual tracks are becoming increasingly available for downloading, not simply from vendors like Amazon and Apple but on once genuinely informative and useful sites like All Music Guide, which has recently been remodeled by Rovi (creator of the ubiquitous, addictive "Angry Birds" app) into a seller-driven, flashy and garish music "arcade." But often the pitch at sites like the new "All Music Guide" is for "streaming," a practice that has proven injurious to the appreciation of both the artist and his recorded output. At least the purchase of individual tracks delivers to the consumer a musical "product," or "text," that above all represents the hard work and sacrifice of its individual maker. And besides instant gratification, the downloading of separate performances provides quick and convenient indexing of the files in programs like iTunes (often preferable, from a consumer's perspective, to burying another jewel case in the sprawling Bill Evans collection that's nestled between the equally burgeoning number of Kenny Dorham albums (the letter "D") and the continually growing Art Farmer sessions ("F") adjacent to Evans' right. Not only does downloading suspend the requirements of building a new and larger bookcase but it confers immediate eternity upon your purchase, whether through the magical matching process of Apple's iCloud or the unlimited "free" Cloud space being offered by Jeff Bezos (Amazon's Steve Jobs).
I cherry-picked this edition of the Sesjun Shows, but after reading the other reviews of this recording--all praising the production values, including audio fidelity--I clearly made a mistake (at least the reviews have prompted me to order the Art Blakey Sesjun Radio Shows in disc format).
My downloaded tracks have disappointing audio balance, with the bass foregrounded throughout at the expense of the piano. Not only is Bill's instrument miked at a disadvantage, but its sonorities are muted, dry, non-complex (the same could be said about any RVG piano (which can be heard far beyond Blue Note), though at least its notes can be clearly heard). A track like "Bluesette" allots a full chorus to harmonica, then piano, finally bass. But bass is so prominent in the mix that a listener's attention may as well be on that instrument alone.
The other decision offered the listener of this collection is a choice between Bill's mid-career and late career trio, if a "choice" can be made between, on the one hand, Bill's distinguished, most enduring, mid-career trio with Gomez and, on the other hand, his gloriously resurgent final trio with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera. In the mid-70s Gomez had become at once a supportive bass player and a virtuoso given as much solo time as Bill. Perhaps his most memorable recorded moment is the session on which Getz ignores a promise to Bill that they would not play a blues. When Stan devilishly launches into the elemental 12-bar form, an incensed Bill stiffs Stan, refusing to lay a finger on any of the keys. It's only because of Gomez' solid and sole support that Stan's stunt works well enough to come off as an appropriate variation in the concert program. But Beautiful (Featuring Stan Getz)
But the Evans-Gomez trio was beginning to sound predictable and even a little slick (an impression I had during 2 of the 3 times I heard them in Chicago during the '70s). Bill was eager for a new start, and no doubt Eddie felt it was time for a change as well. The rejuvenated Bill can best be heard on his guest turn with Marian McPartland on NPR's "Piano Jazz" from November of 1978. The excitement about his discovery of LaBarbera and, especially, Marc Johnson is unmistakable if not palpable in his full and candid exchange with the host. And when he demonstrates his evolving approach to playing the piano--his "anticipatory phrasing"--the listener becomes as captivated as McPartland, who describes her duet with Bill as like being drawn into a vortex, or trying to swim with the current while simultaneously being rendered helpless by the powerful undertow of a counter-current. Her attempt to describe the sensation is just as keenly felt by the listener--above all, any pianist who puts herself in the place of Marian during the pair's wild ride. Marian Mcpartland's Piano Jazz
It would not be until a year later that Bill's plans as related to Marian and a national radio audience would materialize--most notably in the November 26, 1989 "Paris Concerts" Paris Concert 1; Paris Concert 2 and now, on December 6, 1989, the "Sesjun Radio Shows," which devotes an ample portion to the final trio while on the same tour. (Just after the "Sesjun Radio Shows" this unit can be heard in a small, intimate club in Madrid Complete Balboa Jazz Club Performances).
With the exception of the 2-volume "Paris Concert," the prolific work of the final trio has not surfaced until relatively recently: there's a Rome concert, at least two German appearances, a return engagement at the Village Vanguard, and the August stand at Ronnie Scott's. As all of these recordings will demonstrate, the last trio with Marc Johnson is radically different from the first "LaFaro trio," yet it's equally engaging, compelling, powerfully expressive music--to my ears an extraordinary if not heroic valedictory ranking with Mozart's or Verdi's Requiems. The 4 stars are for the quality of the MP3 compression (approximately one-twelfth of the audio information contained in the file of a non-compressed recording). If I had to limit my Evans collection to one session it would be the two 8-disc box sets that represent his very last extended club date: "Last Waltz" and "Consecration." And if it were a single track, either "I Loves You Porgy" from the first Complete Vanguard Session (6/25/61) or the more richly-textured solo piano version of the same tune on the Paris Concert, Vol. 1 (11/26/79). Or, better yet, "Nardis" from "The Last Waltz" (8/31/80-9/6/80): Last Waltz: Final Recordings Live, recorded a week before his death. Throughout these 10 months, Bill was a man on a mission, consumed by a passion to transform the piano trio into an intense, rhapsodic, even spiritual force. To my ears, he succeeded--no jazz artist has reached the heights and probed the depths of human consciousness to the degree of Bill Evans. But it was a costly exchange--his own life for the aesthetic life of the music documented on these final recordings. Bill's quest calls to mind "Sailing to Byzantium," one of the celebrated poems by the greatest, modern, Irish poet, W. B. Yeats, who made the decision to leave the mundane world of Ireland for the aesthetic one of Byzantium where he could be transformed into a "golden bird" singing on a "golden bough." But whereas Yeats could only approximate that song through lyrical verse, Bill "became" that bird, singing it passionately--until only the song remained.
[Caution and recommendation: "Last Waltz" is too much to absorb at once. Instead, import into your computer's software music program all six non-compressed files of "Nardis." Now play Bill's introductions in succession. From this experience, I learned more about the mind of Bill Evans and the consciousness of creative genius than from the descriptions provided in either Pettinger's biography or Laurie Verchomin's intimate account of her relationship with an obsessively driven musician-artist who, between November of 1979 and September of 1980, seemed too exclusively devoted to the peremptory mistress of music to have time on his hands for anything but the keys of a grand piano awaiting transformation into a living, breathing voice of profound, ineffable, timeless beauty.]