domingo, 21 de septiembre de 2008

Everybody digs Bill Evans (1958)

1. Minority
2. Young & Foolish
3. Lucky To Be Me
4. Night & Day
5. Epilogue
6. Tenderly
7. Peace Piece
8. What Is There To Say?
9. Oleo
10. Epilogue
11. Some Other Time (mono)

Bill Evans (p) Sam Jones (b -1,2,4,6,8,9) Philly Joe Jones (d -1,2,4,6,8,9)
RECORDED: NYC, December 15, 1958


"This place of solitude and of the unanswered question found searchingly beautiful expression in Young And Foolish, a very slow ballad that Evans recorded in trio on December 15, 1958, and which appears on the second album in his name Everybody Digs Bill Evans [RLP 1129; OJCCD 068]. The tenacious Orrin Keepnews had waited patiently for more than two years for this album, some 27 months having passed since the recording of New Jazz Conceptions. Evans had not wanted to record in those two years, not only because he had been very busy with Miles Davis but because "he didn't have anything particularly different to say." Only after interrupting his collaboration with Davis was he able to go back into the studio, for the second time as leader of his own trio, and with his own project. The partners he chose for the date were bass player Sam Jones and drummer Philly Joe Jones, for whom Evans had always stood in awe. As he was to say some years later: “He and Paul Chambers are two of the most underrated musicians in the history of jazz and much greater influences than they're given credit for.”
Young And Foolish was, in all probability, a piece that Evans chose not only for its attractive melody, but for its title and lyrics as well. The titles of many tunes that Evans played and recorded in his career seem, in fact, to reflect a sort of commentary or an opinion he had of himself. Other times they seem to ask questions or appear to have some relationship to the more intimate details of his life. Evans, the shy young pianist who always blamed himself for not being good enough - as Keepnews had observed - probably identified with the "young and foolish" of which the song spoke.

Evans the Artist was beginning to emerge in the round. His preference for a story-telling style in music found, in Young And Foolish, a first and important realization. Thanks to richly shaded dynamics, to a voicing of rare beauty and pertinence, and to a sense of "breath" closely linked with his voice-like "enunciations", Evans (re)composes the piece, turning it into a true song without words.

The piece becomes a sequence of scenes drawn together by a feeling of something that is going away, to be lost forever. His modulations not only give variety to the piece but underline the unfolding of the story itself. An essentially ordinary song becomes, in Evans hands, an event to remind us that, as once again the philosopher Jankelevitch maintained: “music is situated in the very depth of the life lived.”

Despite some bop pieces (Minority, Night And Day, Oleo) we still find on "Everybody Digs", the new and artistically important element here, when we compare it to "New Jazz Conceptions", is exactly that "discovery of silence". Two things converged on "Everybody Digs": Evans' now mature style, to the point where he was able to control, impose and live his expressive identity in a more valid way and with greater abandon; and his re-working of sounds and silences absorbed over the months he had spent with Miles Davis.

The three piano solos on the album seem to connect back to the three on the earlier "New Jazz Conceptions", but here everything sounds much more relaxed, evolved and original. Lucky To Be Me is treated with rare harmonic skill and, once again, is a piece Evans has chosen perhaps for its title and for its “story,” apart from the melody itself. On this number, interpretation and narration prevail over improvisation, and Evans also displays a range of harmonic solutions worthy of a top composer/arranger. The voicing appears more and more personal, linked not so much to jazz piano tradition as to the harmonic approach of classical 20th century European composers.

Peace Piece, on the other hand, is a case in itself whose well-known story is worth recalling. Evans was looking for an appropriate introduction to Leonard Bernstein's Some Other Time, when he decided to use the see-sawing swing of its two opening chords as a harmonic base for a series of variations. What is catching here is the fact that those two chords are closely related to those used by Chopin in his Berceuse. In truth, we can really sense the spirit of the great Polish composer hovering in Peace Piece, even though, as Gunther Schuller notes in his essay Jazz and Classical Music (included in Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz), Evans doesn’t sacrifice “the vitality of his improvisational approach” to that spirit.

Schuller, it should be remembered, was a champion of the so-called "Third Stream", a new music that would hopefully emerge from the fusion of the two dominant languages in music, jazz and classical. From this point of view, Evans did not fulfill what Schuller believed was his promise. Nonetheless, viewed in a broader sense, that fusion is there in Evans' production. It may not be in pieces that follow, more or less openly, the classical repertoire, as happens in Peace Piece. This fusion is actually found in Evans' music at the level of expression, not of "materials" used. In this respect the celebrated Peace Piece (in the final part of which Evans ventures into some very interesting polytonal fragments) seems artistically a bit less successful, for example, than some of his numerous improvisations on Nardis in his last years, in which he seems to summarize his entire musical experience - from jazz to Bach’s contrapuntal rigor, to Bartok’s sense of "logical" dissonance. Here he truly gives birth to a new music that goes beyond any genre distinction.

Epilogue is the third, very short piano solo on "Everybody Digs". A hymn built on a pentatonic sequence of notes, which closely recalls Mussorgsky's Promenade in Pictures At An Exhibition. Who knows, maybe this is an emerging of distant sound recollections from a time before Evans felt "young and foolish". Some years later, at the end of a concert at Town Hall in 1966 shortly after the death of his father, he would repeat this piece, which foreshadowed many works by Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. He seemed to be following some unconscious itinerary - invisible to most in his performance and dedication to his father's memory of this unmistakably Russian-flavored hymn, which was not unlike many that he had listened to as a child.
Evans' music, therefore, conceals autobiographical content which is always advanced with extreme reserve. It often recounts stories or intimate impressions steeped in a profound "death wish", revealing a secret world encoded, perhaps, in a title, a play on words or in the text of songs interpreted through the filter of the pianist's intense approach. For instance, at a certain point, the words of Young And Foolish ask “Why is it wrong to be young and foolish? We haven't so long to be. Soon enough the carefree days, the sun-lit days go by.” Or even in Spring Is Here - which Evans was soon to record with LaFaro and Motian, soaring to one of those peaks in his art - the lyrics respond, alongside a slow, yearning and irresistibly questioning string of ascending notes, “maybe it's because nobody needs me;” and then further on, at a parallel point in the piece, “maybe it's because nobody loves me.” Was it because of this sense of abandonment, of futility, this feeling of being unloved, that the Spring was unable to "make his heart dance"?

This song of solitude and desperation (“all my singing is in my playing,” he said) stretches across all his artistic and interpersonal vicissitudes. It may seem almost incredible that a man as refined and intellectually gifted as Evans could have ended up a slave to narcotics from his early youth right up until his death. The profound causes, the psychological disturbances that determined this suicidal choice, his desperate refusal to have "normal", healthy, vital, humanly creative relations, gradually and increasingly seeped into his music. He was a good-looking, sharp-witted man, well over six feet tall, lean and athletic in build, and an excellent swimmer and golfer. But he never accepted himself, and this refusal of his own human reality runs through many of his most intense interpretations. His self-destruction, his human failure, were the price that he felt he had to pay for his artistic fulfillment."

(Bill Evans: Ritratto d’artista con pianoforte/Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist.Enrico Pieranunzi, Rome 1999, Stampa Alternativa)

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