Bill Evans – Treasures: Solo, Trio & Orchestra Recordings from Denmark (1965–1969)
(Elemental Music 5990444. Album review by Julian Maynard-Smith)
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Fans of Bill Evans are hardly short of existing material, what with reissues, compilations and ‘newly discovered rarities’ adding to an already bulging discography – not to mention that Evans obsessively revisited a handful of tunes over and over, year after year. Pick up any live recording of any incarnation of the Bill Evans Trio and the odds are good that you’ll find a version (or two) of Waltz for Debby, Time Remembered or Nardis.
And so it is with these previously unissued ‘solo, trio and orchestra recordings from Denmark (1965–1969)’ on which all of those tunes appear plus a few other Evans favourites, with four versions of Time Remembered alone. And given that some jazz reissues are cobbled-together bootlegs with a scratchy, muffled sound quality to match, the big question is whether these recordings are (to use that most damning of clichés) ‘for completists only’.
The first indicator that this collection is worth investing in is the packaging: either a triple-gatefold double CD with a 56-page booklet, or a limited-edition triple LP on 180g vinyl. As well as the usual ‘track listing, personnel and recording dates’ type information, the booklet is packed with rare photos, interviews with (or articles on) the musicians involved, and other insightful articles such as an analysis of Bill Evans’s time in Denmark. (The photo on the booklet’s cover has been reversed, judging by the migration of Evans’s hair parting from left side to right – but no matter.) The second indicator of a worthwhile investment is that the credits in the booklet include two people who worked on ‘sound restoration’ – and given that the recordings are from tapes of sixties radio broadcasts, they’ve done a good job. The sound is clean with no audible hiss, dropouts, hums, scratches or pops.
There’s a lot of music too, with plenty of variety: two hours and 18 minutes comprising one solo set, four pure trio performances with varying bassists and drummers, and a trio augmented by a symphony orchestra and big band. Historically and musically, it’s intriguing to hear how Evans responds to these different settings, especially as he’s largely credited with transforming the piano trio from ‘soloist on top of rhythm section’ into the three-way conversations we nowadays take for granted – meaning he often sounds very responsive to the energy and personalities of his co-contributors.
We start with a trio set from the Copenhagen Jazz Festival (October 1965), with Danish Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson on bass and American Alan Dawson on drums. NHØP was only nineteen at the time of the recording, but precociously talented; and as bassist for the house band of Copenhagen’s Montmartre Jazzhus, he’d built his chops playing with several visiting US stars (even playing with Bud Powell when only sixteen). Dawson too played for many greats but isn’t nearly as well known as he deserved to be (perhaps because a back injury in his forties forced him to give up performing), and delivers a strong performance. Overall, the dynamics of the Evans/NHØP/Dawson line-up are more extravert than what one might expect of a Bill Evans trio – for example, the opening Come Rain or Shine is muscular and up-tempo, and Someday My Prince Will Come is cheerful and bold, with Evans playing hard and NHØP delivering a springy yet fluid solo.
Next up is a trio set recorded in Holbæk (November 1965) comprising Evans and NHØP again but with Alex Riel on drums. Like NHØP, Riel was in the Montmartre Jazzhus’s house band at the time, which is bound to have created some positive chemistry between the two. Riel sounds a tad less driving than Dawson and this performance feels a little more dreamy and introspective than the first – but no less interesting for that, as attested by (for example) Riel’s subtle brushwork on the first of the versions of Time Remembered.
Next, a broadcast from Copenhagen (November 1969) comprising a trio of Evans with Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums, with the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra & Danish Radio Big Band, arranged and conducted by Palle Mikkelborg. Eddie Gomez was the longest serving bassist of any Bill Evans Trio (1966–77), and Marty Morell a longstanding member too (1968–75), so it’s interesting to hear them performing with Evans relatively early on. Mikkelborg’s string arrangements are probably too romantic (or cloying – take your pick) for modern tastes but the big-band arrangements work well, showing Mikkelborg’s indebtedness to Gil Evans – especially on the titular track Treasures, where Mikkelborg’s muted trumpet sounds like a homage to the then very recent Miles Davis / Gil Evans collaborations of 1957–68.
In marked contrast is an unaccompanied solo set from Bill Evans (Copenhagen, November 1965), a fine blend of the introspective ballads one would expect of Evans with less expected moments of forceful swinging – even in the same tune, such as on a brisk version of My Funny Valentine (a standard on which a lesser musician might have been tempted to wallow in sentimentality).
Next is the Evans/Gomez/Riel trio in Copenhagen (October 1966). It was the year in which Gomez started his long stint as Evans’s bassist, but it sounds almost as if Gomez is the leader, Evans often happy to make space for a bass solo straight after the head and Riel largely in the background – although quite prominent on a relatively short Nardis that closes the set. Refreshing surprises include a perky and cheerful take on In a Sentimental Mood (which, like My Funny Valentine, is a tune that in the wrong hands tends towards the maudlin).
The final performance is the Evans/Gomez/Morell trio in Aarhus (November 1969), a change of drummer and a gap of three years perhaps most noticeable in how Morell sounds more to the fore than Riel – particularly on a brisk version of Autumn Leaves that has a longish bass-drums dialogue from which Evans drops out completely. The performances also sound more expansive, this trio’s take on Nardis (again, closing the set) a lengthy 8:06 versus the 3:35 of the previous set. Not quite the epic versions of Nardis of Evans’s latter years (which could stretch to twice that length) but perhaps an indicator of what was to come.
In summary, it’s much more than a ‘completists only’ package – Evans fans will find plenty of interest, but so too will anyone with even just a passing interest in Evans and the possibilities of the piano trio. And Evans fans may also be tempted by the earlier Elemental release Behind The Dikes – The 1969 Netherlands Recordings, which also is available in 2-CD or 3-LP format plus booklet.
LINK: Buy Treasures