Bill Evans – You Must Believe In Spring
(Warner Bros/Music On Viny MOVLP-1145. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
This is a late album in the canon of Bill Evans, recorded in 1977 and on the Warner Bros label, whereas Evans was most famously associated with Riverside and Verve, and his glory days are widely regarded as being in the 1960s. In theory, the great jazz pianist should have been a spent force by this point, with every tooth in his head removed by a British dentist between gigs at Ronnie Scott’s (to avoid the expense of dental work in the USA). He was also suffering from hepatitis and beleaguered by personal tragedies, which would culminate in the suicide of his beloved brother Harry (father of the Debby immortalised in Waltz For Debby). It was a period of decline and debacle and indeed this LP was shelved by Warner Bros and only released after Evans’s death in 1980. I certainly wouldn’t have sought it out, with its melancholy, near monochrome cover — anything but spring-like — which in fact seems to be announcing the wintry terminus of Evans’s career, and life. But that would have been my loss.
Fortunately the audiophile label Music On Vinyl have chosen to resurrect this largely forgotten record. I was ambushed by its quiet, exquisite musicality. It’s an album of startling beauty with exemplary, elegant playing in the purity of a trio setting and it displays a flawless choice of material.
B Minor Waltz is an original written by Bill Evans. It opens the album with booming bass and chiming, precise, pensive piano by Evans. Accompanied by the soft shimmering of drummer Eliot Zigmund’s brushes, Evans picks his way through the tune like a water bird on a glittering seashore. Evans was very much taken with the music of Michel Legrand, whose gift for melody deeply influenced Evans, leaving its mark on this and other compositions.
The lovely You Must Believe In Spring is by Michel Legrand himself and had its origins in the wonderful Jacques Demy film Les Demoiselles de Rochefort where it was entitled Chanson de Maxence. Evans shows his affection and admiration for Legrand in the care and emotion with which he delineates the tune, eschewing pyrotechnics. Bassist Eddie Gomez goes electric on this track and his gorgeous, poetic bass playing goes a remarkable way towards reproducing the vocal line of the original song.
Gary’s Theme, which Evans always called ‘Gary’s Waltz’, is by Gary McFarland, another tragic jazz figure (an enormously gifted vibraphonist, composer and arranger, he was poisoned with a shot of methadone in a New York bar). Evans plays it with a slow and expert melancholy, unearthing both pain and beauty. Gomez and Zigmund shadow and support him, moving through the lost terrain of memory.
This is an album shot through with elegiac, autumnal beauty. But it’s by no means all woe, and the material is varied and wide ranging. The upbeat and darkly jaunty Theme from MASH (Suicide is Painless) was a considerable hit by composer Johnny Mandel and has become something of a jazz standard thanks to a cover version by Ahmad Jamal. Given that MASH was Bill Evans’s favourite TV show (he used to watch repeats between sets in his dressing room at Ronnie Scott’s), it’s only appropriate that he should take a crack at Mandel’s theme here. Evans plays lyrical and meditative piano while Gomez’s bass kicks in to give it a propelling pulse. The mood remains impressionistic as Evans dismantles the tune, but to a great extent it remains Gomez’s piece. These sessions were the last work Eddie Gomez did with Evans — the end of an eleven year association — and there’s a sense that the bassist is pulling out all the stops to do his finest work for his long time collaborator.
This album is a lost gem and a poignant reminder, should any be needed, of the immensity of our loss when Bill Evans checked out.