Bill Evans (p) Scott LaFaro (b) Paul Motian (d)
|Israel||Riverside RLP 351|
|Beautiful Love (take 2)||-|
|Elsa||Riverside R 45462, RLP 351|
|Nardis||Riverside RLP 351|
|How Deep Is The Ocean?||Riverside R 45462, RLP 351|
|I Wish I Knew||Riverside RLP 351|
|Sweet And Lovely||-|
|Beautiful Love (take 1)||Fantasy OJCCD 037-2|
|The Boy Next Door||Milestone M 47034; Fantasy OJCCD 037-2|
= Bill Evans - Spring Leaves (Milestone M 47034)
* Bill Evans - Elsa c/w How Deep Is The Ocean? (Riverside R 45462)
Explorations [RLP-351; OJCCD 037-2] was recorded on February 2, 1961. The demanding, critical Evans was in no rush to record, something which made Keepnews very anxious. The Riverside label was going through an expansion and image-building phase in which Evans played no small part. Between Portrait in Jazz and Explorations the trio went on the road, playing a few nights at Birdland in the spring of 1960, but Evans carried on with his activity as sideman. By now he was a deluxe contributor to contexts very distant from him, like J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding's quintet, with whom he recorded in the Fall of that same year, or the four-trombone septet led by Winding himself with whom he recorded that December. He was in dire need of funds. He had to do studio work with various groups other than his trio to support his narcotics habit, a problem that over the years was becoming increasingly serious, and which created a constant need for money. His producer's loans were not always enough to get him out of the disastrous situation that his self-destructive side had landed him in. As if in a sort of double-exposure, Bill pursued his musical objectives with great honesty and intellectual lucidity while his private life was deeply marred. The heroin weakened his perception of an outside world that seemed all too tough to him. It was his refuge, but a punishment as well – the price of such a gift.
How Deep is the Ocean
Shy and introverted, “ I've always been basically introspective,” Evans managed his dependency with that same discretion that we find in his music. Nonetheless, it naturally created enormous problems for him in his personal, and especially intimate, relationships. Music became more and more his ivory tower, where he barricaded himself in an attempt to deny internal crisis. He was moving towards a kind of abstracted intellectual vision, rich in religious sentiment, that barely hid his progressive dissociation and internal bewilderment. (“My creed for art in general is that it should enrich the soul”). Perhaps in this scenario we can find a plausible explanation for Evans' aversion to any sort of musical transgression, even that in which he revealed himself so great a protagonist.
His work of 1960 offers a two pertinent examples on this point: the first was the recording of Jazz In The Space Age with George Russell, who had always believed in and encouraged, more than the pianist himself, Evans' innovative talent. The second one was the recording of Jazz Abstractions, two Third-Stream sets of variations by Günter Schuller (one on a theme by Thelonious Monk and one on a theme by John Lewis). A point of interest in the latter recording was that Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy were part of the group. These two musicians were hatching the total renovation of the formal models that had characterized jazz up to then, but Evans was evidently not particularly moved. He was going his own way, profoundly rooted in the traditional jazz idiom.
While extremely well-versed in 20th century European classical music, and even very knowledgeable about advanced compositional techniques (such as serialism), he was not drawn to experimentation. In Chromatic Universe Part III Russell left room for a two-piano free improvisation: Evans and Paul Bley (a Canadian pianist already part of the avant-garde scene) engaged in a duet with no pre-established layout, threading themselves through the asymmetrical rhythmic background traced by Don Lamond and Milt Hinton. On the surface the occasion could be said to have been a historic one, but in reality the only one who seemed to really believe in it was Bley. Evans showed some uneasiness and struggled to let himself go. A missed opportunity, perhaps, even though the duet offered some very valuable moments.
Evans' expressive world, in any case, was decidedly another, the proof of which would be seen a short time later when he went into the studio to record Explorations (February 1961), his fourth personal album and second recorded with LaFaro and Motian. The album was a further step towards that "trialogue", that three-way colloquy they were looking for. Nardis and Sweet And Lovely, in particular, are remarkable results for these three on their way to emancipation from that worn-out pattern of a pianist in the foreground with bass and drums just comping.
The roles are inverted for a while in Nardis. The theme stated, LaFaro soars into a magnificent solo (maybe this amazing performance had something to do with the fact that just two days earlier he had recorded the Atlantic album Ornette! with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell); Evans backs him with a simple but engagingly voiced melody, its tone permeated with that French Impressionist aura he loved. He is extremely sensitive in adapting to LaFaro's improvisational line, accurately choosing the height of the sounds and alternating open or close harmony to modulate the color of his voicing. When Bill's turn comes up his very colloquial solo proves how maximum results can be achieved with minimum means. His right hand, in fact, plays a few sparing notes loaded with an emotionally dense "specific weight", giving us a clear example of his ability to make the piano “a complete expressive musical medium.” LaFaro then takes up his own individual path, playing in counterpoint to the new melody that Evans is extemporaneously composing and interpreting on the piece's chord changes. Finally, in its coda, Nardis offers us a fleeting memory of the celebrated Prelude in C Sharp Minor, by Rachmaninov, whose marked Russian-ness he had always been very fond of. Beyond everything already said above, and the fact that the version that we are talking about was the first that Evans recorded in trio, Nardis deserves a special digression, which is a little story in itself. As any jazz student or professional jazz player knows, in every jazz tune collection Nardis is generally credited to Miles Davis even though, surprisingly, its composer never recorded it. According to a personal recollection of Evans', referring to a 1958 session with Cannonball Adderley, “Miles came along to the studio with it, and you could see that the guys were struggling with it. Miles wasn't happy with it either but after the date he said that I was the only one to play it in the way that he wanted. I must have helped his royalties over the years, because I have never stopped playing it. It has gone on evolving with every trio I have had!”
Despite this recollection, and also thanks to the information kindly passed along to this writer by the well-known jazz critic Ira Gitler concerning the numerous, dexterous, and sometimes even bold-faced "misappropriations" that Miles was known for (e.g.: Solar), it is highly improbable that Davis really wrote the tune. It is very probable, however, that it was really written by guitarist Chuck Wayne, whose ancestry was Slavic - which would finally clear up the mystery surrounding a piece written in E minor, a very comfortable key for the guitar but a decidedly awkward and unnatural one for the trumpet. Its composer's Slavic roots would also explain the Oriental over tones of a piece that, most likely for this precise reason, had such a compelling impact on Evans in his final period.
To get back to Explorations, Israel and Beautiful Love are, in terms of group work, two important examples of the trio's progress in their desired direction, that of an ever deepening and complex work of "simultaneous improvisation" for three equal partners. In the first of the two selections, as also noted previously with Sweet and Lovely, and perhaps influenced in mood by the ingenious rendition some time earlier by Thelonious Monk, whom it is known that Evans deeply admired, the trio breathes like a living organism. When one of the three starts driving or increasing the sound intensity by means of a stronger musical energy, the other two juxtapose themselves to the new situation. The way Evans does it is to enrich and broaden his voicing, making the piano resound like a full orchestra in which the whole range of frequencies is activated at the same time to flank and enhance LaFaro's energetic outburst.
Aside from this group progress, Explorations offers good examples in another area where Evans was having important artistic results: that of ballad interpreting. The "romantic" aspect of jazz (a term that the pianist wasn't crazy about, at least in its superficial and obvious sense) had been, before Evans, the almost exclusive domain of singers or horn players (Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Davis himself, Chet Baker, Helen Merrill). Never, in the history of jazz, had the piano been used as a vehicle to "sing" stories from the heart [emphasis mine]- or their sad endings either - like a trumpet, sax or human voice had been. Evans was a true revolutionary in this. He changed a solidly established tradition, expanding it to include the piano which, before then, had been thought of either as a percussion instrument or as an "imitator" of the trumpet or sax, the most visible jazz instruments.
Through some of the slow pieces on Explorations, Evans throws open a door to re-embrace the very ancient popular song tradition, making his songs heirs to the 19th century European Lieder. Just as jazz, in the early 60s, was speaking out in a louder voice to a wider audience (John Coltrane's famous quartet was born, in fact, in 1961), Evans was choosing to go in the opposite direction and speak softly, and the conversation was with himself. If anything, he would invite a few, discreet friends to listen. While Coltrane would steep his music in theological query, and come up with a positive and sure response, in How Deep Is The Ocean or in I Wish I Knew, Evans' seems to wonder, without ever getting to a satisfying answer, about Man, about the meaning of existence, about the "unbearable lightness of being".
His musical processes are, of course, technically analyzable. In the first of the two selections, for instance, he never plays the original melody, landing there only at the very end of a sort of (re) compositional journey founded on completely new melodic lines. Warren Bernhardt, pianist and Evans' personal friend, states that despite the fact that he never plays the original melody here, he brings out its “quintessence.” The something that makes How Deep Is The Ocean (as it did Spring Is Here) an extremely significant musical event is to be found, in reality, in silence, in the unspoken - but for this reason spoken in a more penetrating way – “communication by implication.”
His music evokes a profound and unconscious reality where the resonant vibration of the instrument, the relationship between one sound and another, between one melodic fragment and the next, become 'psychic images' - a minimum of sounds containing a maximum in human content.
“The emotional content of his work was unique in his generation. He could take a standard show tune, originally attractive, yet sullied by the accretion over the years of countless trivial associations, and give it a reading which seemed not merely to restore its pristine appeal but simultaneously to embody a truly personal vision, in comparison with which the basic tune seemed but a desultory thought. His (re) compositions - for no other description will suffice - of such material were carried through with immense discretion, as though the component notes of each and every chord had been subjected to prolonged consideration, as though the rhythmic imaginativeness and flexibility involved in the task, the minute gradations of touch and subtle shifts of emphasis, had been evolved with that one interpretation in mind.” (Michael James in the liner notes of the two 1961 Village Vanguard albums)."
(Bill Evans: Ritratto d’artista con pianoforte/Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist.Enrico Pieranunzi, Rome 1999, Stampa Alternativa)(thanks http://jazzprofiles.blogspot.com !!!)