Empathy / A Simple Matter of Conviction
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The jazz wisdom regarding Bill Evans's relationship to drummers is that only Philly Joe Jones could light a bona fide rhythmic fire beneath the often mellow, circuitous pianist. But here California-cool-identified rhythm ace Shelly Manne shows both intimate knowledge of Evans's modus operandi and a keen manner for destabilizing the picture enough to drive uncommonly hard-swinging trio interplay. This two-fer collects both dates Manne played with Evans--and bassists Monty Budwig (on Empathy in 1962) and longtime trio member Eddie Gomez (on A Simple Matter of Conviction in 1966)--and the pairing makes great sense. Not only did Manne push the trio to new places, but Evans yanked Manne into a kind of ultrasensitive spot, too, engaging the drums and ride cymbals so that they sound harmonic and melodic. The net result is hair-raising in its exactness and a pleasure to hear. --Andrew Bartlett
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A Simple Matter of Conviction (1966): BE, p; Eddie Gomez, b.; Shelly Manne, dr.
The CD comprises the only two albums Bill Evans and Shelly Manne recorded together. The first is from 1962: Monty Budwig is on bass. The second was recorded four years later, in 1966, and according to the liner notes was Eddie Gomez’s first recording with Evans. Evans plays as well as he ever did on the 1962 cuts. Manne’s assertive (but always tasteful) drumming seems to have inspired the pianist to play more aggressively than usual. That’s a good thing because as accomplished a player as Evans was, there are albums from that period that, I sigh to say it, are a bit somnolent, albums where Evans seems to coast. As to his companions on the recording, Budwig was one of the best, by which I mean steadiest, bass players on the West Coast. He holds his own here but essentially plays walking bass rather than counter-lines like LaFaro before him and Israels and Gomez later on did. In short, Budwig plays well on the gig but he doesn’t light up the sky, as a more adventuresome bass player might have done and as Gomez does on the second session four years later. Manne’s work, especially on the Empathy (1962) set is superb. If you needed anything to remind you what a great drummer Shelly Manne was, this is it. Listen to his drum work on the very first tune, “The Washington Twist,” one of two songs written by Irving Berlin. Part way through, Evans drops out for Budwig’s solo. Manne continues behind the bassist, playing almost nothing –scattered shots, one or two beat long phrases, using snares, toms and cymbals in unexpected bursts. It’s subtle fun, just enough interrupting to pique the listener’s interest. Manne was a truly melodic drummer, an inventive user of drum color. (He one time compared his drumming and that of bop master Max Roach: Roach, he said, builds melody out of the rhythms he starts with where I [Manne] start with melody and built my rhythms out of that.) Listen too to Manne’s restrained brush and cymbal work behind Evans on the ballad, “Danny Boy.” The second set, with Gomez, 1966, is equally good but more conservative: nothing stretches as far and Manne’s drumming is more conservative too. But both albums show what a brilliant drummer he was. He didn’t leave a school behind him but then neither did Eddie Shaughnessie or Chico Hamilton, with both of whom Manne has much in common: an adaptable, always propulsive but ultimately coloristic approach to drumming that embraced bop but kept its swing roots –think Jo Jones a generation younger. Once you move past the classic Evans-LaFaro-Motian albums of 1961, these albums are among the very best Evans did in the remaining nineteen years of his short but extraordinary musical career.
Evans' playing on this album (6 cuts) range from the joyful, ebulliant, to the pensive, moody Evans we often associate with him. "With a Song in My Heart" and "Washington Twist" (by Irving Berlin, no less), are bouncing, joyful outings, as are "I Believe in You" and "Let's Go Back to th e Waltz". The two ballads, "Goodbye" and "Danny Boy" are a combination of one-note and brilliant chordal playing, with clusters and complex, two-handed chords, all the while with soaring melodies. "Danny Boy" is notable for its sad, lonely aura, while "Goodbye" has some very forceful, bluesy playing by Evans.
I think this is Bill Evans at his best. No fan, or novice, should consider his collection complete until they have listened to this at least once. You won't be sorry!!
Starting the album with Irving Berlin's Washington Twist, Evans and Manne sound almost Brubeck-ish and even forceful, without sounding forced or silly. Other songs, like the second track, Danny Boy feauture Evans playing at his most sensitive and quiet. Very pretty.
Session two (with Eddie Gomez on bass, instead of Monty Budwig) has a bunch of Evans originals, including A Simple Matter Of Conviction, which is neat and quirky, plus Orbit (Unless it's you) which is pretty good and conventional. The last two originals are Only Child which is quite pretty, and These Things Called Changes which is more uptempo and shiney. These songs are pretty obscure for Evans, thus making this cd almost essential and unique. Pick it up.
Really, trust me, these two albums are wonderful. Buy this piece of jazz history.
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Anyone who enjoys Bill Evans will treasure this CD.
What more can I say?