mon 22/07/2024

Reissue CDs Weekly: Bill Evans - Evans in England | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Bill Evans - Evans in England

Reissue CDs Weekly: Bill Evans - Evans in England

Fan-friendly collection of previously unissued 1969 live recordings

Bill Evans reflects on circularity and taking a backseat© Jean-Pierre Leloir

The Bill Evans Trio played London’s Ronnie Scott’s from 1 to 27 December 1969 as a co-billing with Blossom Dearie. The season would have remained less than a footnote if it were not for a French fan identified only as ”Jo” in Evans in England’s booklet.

He took an Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder into the club and placed it under the stage-side table he and a friend occupied. It sat on his knees and was hidden under the tablecloth. A Beyerdynamic microphone was hooked up to the Uher.

This was no mean feat. The Uher model mostly in use at the time was the Report 4000 (pictured below left). Though small, it weighs just under seven pounds. A Beyerdynamic microphone is a stick-like model with a bulb at the business end. It was positioned on the floor. “Jo” had some chutzpah. Evans himself, according to the booklet’s liner notes, later became aware of his dedicated fan’s activities and acquired dubs of some of the illicit recordings. Now, what was taped in London is available for anyone.

Bill Evans_Evans in EnglandElsewhere, there is no shortage of aural evidence for what Bill Evans was up to in 1969. Recordings of the revered pianist in his then-extant trio format with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell are not thin on the ground. November 1969 shows from Amsterdam and Copenhagen have been issued. So has a Pescara, Italy booking from the preceding July. At the time, selections from New York dates in January, February and March 1969 with the trio supplemented by flautist Jeremy Steig were issued on the What's New album.

There were also – during October and November 1969 – the initial sessions for what would become the From Left to Right album, which was released in 1970. The first record featuring Evans on electric piano as well as acoustic, it filled out trio’s sound with arrangements devised by Michel Legrand.

Evans in England captures Evans during a magpie-minded phase in his career; when he was reaching out by supplementing his basic line-up with other instruments yet still playing bread-and-butter shows such as the Ronnie Scott's season with Gomez and Morell. Evans in England is issued as double CD and double album, but only the former was submitted for review.

Neither the liner notes or the promotional material say whether what’s heard is from one show, or if the track sequencing follows the order of a single set or series of sets. “Jo”, the liner notes declare, “was very discreet on the circumstances of the recordings.” Imponderables aside, what has been issued has fine sound quality, a well-defined dynamic range and has no background noise. Beyond applause, there are no audience contributions. If the history was unknown, this would pass as a professionally recorded release.

Bill Evans_Evans in England_uher report 4000Eighteen tracks are heard. The most appropriate to the contemporaneous moment is a precise rendering of “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?”, a Michel Legrand composition first heard as part of the soundtrack of the 1969 film The Happy Ending. Evans’s recent work with Legrand was still on his mind. “So What” is also roughly immediate as a version with Jeremy Steig had been included on the What's New album.

“So What” is an additionally intriguing inclusion as Evans had also recorded it during his brief late-Fifties spell with Miles Davis who had played Ronnie Scott’s in November 1969, a few weeks before Evans’s spell at the club. At that booking Davis’s drummer was Jack DeJohnette, who had been with Evans in 1968 – he was replaced by Marty Morell. There is a strange circularity in Evans referencing various aspects of his own past by revisiting “So What”.

Otherwise, Evans roams freely. The set's opening version of Gershwin’s “Our Love is Here to Stay” – which Evans first brought out on record in 1963 – is somewhat disconcertingly disrupted by Gomez  launching into an 80-second bass solo only 39 seconds in. After this digression, Evans picks up the flow and pushes the tempo forward. As it puts the bandleader in the backseat, this is an offbeat opener. “Sugar Plum” and “The Two Lonely People” are interesting as Evans issued versions in 1971. Looking back and forward went hand-in-hand

Overall, what comes across is a band which was comfortable with itself. “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “Re: Person I Knew” and “My Foolish Heart” would have been well known to audience and band alike, but an ease and fluidity about the interplay and playing underlines the immediacy of the performances.

Beyond its explicit acknowledgment that Evans was happy to stay in the background – “Stella By Starlight” features a lengthy bass and drums excursion – Evans in England is resolutely a release for the committed, especially as many of the pieces are about the playing rather than melody. Still, this is not going to be a problem for fans.

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