viernes, 24 de abril de 2009

The Bill Evans Album - 1971


Bill Evans Trio

Bill Evans (p, el-p) Eddie Gomez (b) Marty Morell (d)

NYC, May 11, 12, 17, 19 & 20, June 9, 1971

CO109106Comrade ConradColumbia C 30855
CO109107The Two Lonely People-
-Funkallero (alt. take)unissued
CO109109Sugar PlumColumbia C 30855
CO109110Waltz For Debby-
-Waltz For Debby (alt. take)unissued
CO109111Re: Person I KnewColumbia C 30855
-Re: Person I Knew (alt. take)unissued
CO109112T.T.T.Columbia C 30855
CO109113Fun Riderejected
* The Bill Evans Album (Columbia C 30855)



"His private life was much calmer now. Helen Keane had managed to notably enhance his artistic image, finding his target audience predominantly in Europe. Despite the great diffusion of rock-jazz, a portion of the public and of other musicians had, in fact, rejected the "electric revolution" and saw in Evans the standard-bearer of important and serious musical values, of an aesthetic that the spreading politicized ideology of music-for-the-masses seemed determined to dismantle, to relegate forever to a forgettable past. Evans' "message" in this aesthetic found numerous and attentive receivers.

Having always been interested in Eastern philosophies, he colored his interviews in the late 60s with considerations on the universal value of art, on the impossibility of a rational approach to music, on its "spiritual" function. His music did not shout, did not need to be played at high volume, did not seek massive audiences - it was profoundly human and went straight for the heart. They began to transcribe his solos and themes, to realize that his formal conception, his chord-voicing was a kind of synthesis, a distillation of the previous twenty years of jazz language and, most of all, that this synthesis was so accessible to so many.

As opposed to the great jazz piano personalities like Monk, for example, the work of "de-coding and re-coding" that Evans carried out on jazz improvisation mechanisms helped enormously to clarify the "creative process" of jazz, which, precisely through his solos and his restructuring and recomposing of the old standards, is today accessible and comprehensible. To say something understandable, while maintaining an increasing higher degree of meaning was, in any case, one of the most pressing requirements that he exacted of his music. The accessibility and special flavor that characterize his harmonic approach really had a lot to do with his classical background. A good example is, for instance, his chord-voicing made up of "stacked", superimposed thirds used frequently in Ravel's modal pieces. By contrast, Evans' style frequently featured the right hand playing three or four sounds in close harmony, recalling the sound of a big band trumpet section. Evans' harmony, actually, seems to be based on the four-part harmony of the traditional Protestant liturgy, onto which he grafts the specific dissonant flavor of jazz. These liturgical origins are probably traceable to his father's Welsh/Celtic roots, but also to his classical exposure, especially to Bach and Brahms.

In analyzing any one of Evans' harmonies it is easy to recognize his accuracy in following the correct, canonical part motion, as recommended in the treatises on harmony and (almost always) put into practice by the great composers of Western music. It is also striking how much care Evans took in moving the so-called inner parts of chords; a detail that reaffirms the substantially "vocal" and contrapuntal character of his approach to harmony, and which, by means of an extremely refined audio and tactile sensibility, gave these inner lines (usually neglected by bop piano players) great personal expressive quality.

At a time when themes were stated predominantly by the horns (sax or trumpet), his passion for the song form and his need to "sing" through the instrument, spurred Evans to take on an apparently banal problem which had been rather ignored by his colleagues of the early 1950s, but one to which he gave a central role: the harmonizing at the piano of a melody. The point was to resolve this problem using the widest harmonic vocabulary possible, including that harmonic lexicon that until then had been the almost exclusive legacy of European piano music, from late-Romanticism throughout the entire Impressionist era.
Part of this lexicon had already penetrated jazz, thanks to some arrangers of the late 1940s (the Gil Evans of Birth Of The Cool, for example, or some scores by Gerry Mulligan and George Russell) but, outside of big-band jazz, there was a sort of lag in appropriating and using that enormous patrimony. Bill Evans filled the gap.

It was a long and tedious process. Applying the principles and harmonic codes of classical music to jazz was a delicate job of blending and took an enormous effort. Evans stated paradoxically that this was due to the fact that his musical ear wasn't good. This was not a joke, but one of his numerous and sincere understated, self-deprecating observations that had to do with his retiring, even self-negating, nature. This was an enterprise that involved the ear, of course, but the brain and heart as well following, above all, an extreme craving for beauty capable of avoiding any artifice and superficial hybridization.

The "glue" in this risky operation was Evans' enormous love for the song form, in which he felt the common language of the people vibrating and transmitting, through a melodic simplicity, human emotions accessible to everyone. This was, therefore, a musically cultivated, but anti-intellectual, operation; an artistic process in which the final goal was not to create something new but something more pleasing and more beautiful. He succeeded completely, to the point of radically, and forever, changing the face and sound of jazz piano. It was ahead of its time too. In fact, when Evans began working, and when he started to see the first results (this happened between '56 and '58 - we can consider Young And Foolish the first example of a successful outcome), impassioned jazz listeners were struck above all by the Powell-like improvisational lines that were the usual way in which the majority of piano players were expressing themselves at that time. It was musicians like Miles Davis who were the first to become aware that something profoundly new, a sound never before heard, had been added to the history of jazz.

It was on a recording in the spring of 1970 that Evans first made use of the electric piano; a cautious approach to the use of an instrument that, thanks to Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, was beginning to spread even though, contrary to many predictions in those years, would not replace the acoustic piano but would take its place alongside it. One of Evans' most significant "indirect disciples", pianist Keith Jarrett, went into the studio more or less in that period to record his first album with Miles Davis. It is a curious fact that for that recording - Live Evil - Davis had called upon these three pianists - Hancock, Corea and Jarrett - who summarized, although through three distinctly different artistic personalities, much of Evans' influence.

Out of the three, Jarrett was surely the most reminiscent of the “master", not only from the point of view of piano language, but also in terms of the aesthetic concept and philosophic vision of the phenomenon of music. Jarrett shared with Evans, among other things, a certain aversion, or at least a marked skepticism, for electric instruments, to the extent that he made a sharp distinction between electricity and electronics, saying that only the former is to be considered a - still largely unexplored - human factor.
An artist such as Evans, who had placed at the center of his enterprise a feeling for the keyboard that will allow you to transfer any emotional utterance into it, could not be very interested in "prefabricated" sounds which had little possibility to be "molded" according to one's psychic/emotional dynamic.

In an interview for the magazine Contemporary Keyboard of September 1979, Jarrett expressed his ideas on the ineffability of music in much the same terms that Evans had in 1960. The latter had said of jazz that “it's got to be experienced, because it's feeling, not words. Words are the children of reason and, therefore, can't explain it... That's why it bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not, it's feeling.”

The late 1960s and early 1970s found Evans deeply involved with his trio. His return to a stable group after the many changes of the mid-60s, his firm belief in the importance of keeping the same members in a group, his faith in Gomez and Morell (musicians that he had taken on after careful evaluation of their abilities, as he had always done and would continue to do throughout his entire career), all contributed to reviving his prospects for continuous and fruitful growth.

Nevertheless, the artistic results of that period from 1968 to 1974 were not particularly exceptional. Perhaps a certain rigidity in Morell's approach, his preference for relatively high sound volume and his scarce propensity for "dialoguing", along with a certain stressing of the virtuoso aspects of his way of playing in Gomez, contributed to this. Add to all that Evans' tendency to thicken his phrasing, and to use not exactly daring improvisational modules, and what you get is a decidedly more "mainstream" product. The formal itinerary of the pieces becomes more predictable: Morell and Gomez impatiently “push” for an energetic and vigorous "walk,” sharply stress the four beats per bar, unable to calmly let the music itself and Evans' discourse evolve naturally towards their desired rhythmic situation. Allied with this general increase in the trio's volume (due to a large extent to Marty Morell, who used the brushes very little compared with Evans' previous drummers) was the technological revolution in progress, thanks to which Gomez like many other bass players at the time, was beginning to make wider use of the amplifier.
There were two important consequences of all this: the first was that Evans had to literally "shift" his center of action towards the upper register of the keyboard; the other was his growing desire to play duets and leave out the drummer. When interviewed by Francois Postif of Jazz Hot after a concert in February 1972 at the Maison de l’ORTF in Paris (link to 1965 concert), Evans said, -“I like the music that I am playing now, but I don’t seem to be making any progress, and that makes me sad.” His awareness of this stalled phase says a lot about Evans capacity to perceive the more or less evolving nature of his music. The golden years, those full of the tension of searching, seemed far off now. Besides, his physical state was not the best; repeated attempts to quit drugs had failed. Thus the recordings made with Gomez and Morell in the early 1970s could be considered a fairly accurate picture of a rather seriously retrogressive phase for Evans. The Bill Evans Album (1971) opened a brief period with the Columbia label, a major recording company who would not be at all sensitive to the most meaningful aspects of Evans' art (they went as far as to offer him a rock album!).

Here Evans plays a bit of electric piano which perhaps could also be considered a way to try "from outside" to vary and animate an expressive world suffering from a lack of creative vitality. It should, however, be noted that the Columbia producers' attitude was even more commercial than Creed Taylor's had been at Verve. They were trying to invent "gimmicks" to make Evans' music more saleable, and the use of the electric piano was most likely his bowing to this policy, which had, perhaps, to do with this low-ebb period in his art. The album, which is not among his most successful trio recordings contains, however, exclusively original pieces by Evans.

This reawakening of his compositional vein came about, as it had some ten years earlier on the occasion of Interplay Sessions, under force. Evans did not think of himself as a full-time composer but increased his output when recording projects called for it. His preparation in the field was, in reality, broad and deep, dating back to his years at Mannes College in New York (1955), where he had learned the most sophisticated compositional techniques, to which he dedicated himself periodically, even if just as an exercise.
TTT(Twelve Tone Tune) on The Bill Evans Album is a clear demonstration of his technical mastery. As the title itself suggests, this piece uses the principles of serial music which requires the choice of a twelve-note row, none of which can recur until they are all used up: Evan presents his row three times in three sections of four bars each leaving, however, the relative harmonization to follow a tonal logic. Some interesting scribbles of his allow us to follow the gradual developing of his compositional idea and the process by which he arrived at the final score. Evans worked like a patient bricklayer who, after choosing his materials, little by little builds the piece. This procedure is surely much closer to the practice of classical music than to the instinctive immediacy usually associated with a jazz tune. The piece TTTT (Twelve Tone Tune Two) recorded for the first time in early 1973 and included in the live album The Tokyo Concert, was also based on the same compositional technique.

The Two Lonely People

"Although master of the most evolved compositional techniques, Evans was at his most sincere in pieces that had an obvious narrative form, like the touching The Two Lonely People, also recorded for the first time on The Bill Evans Album and fruit of that very intense period of work as a composer. Once again the title of the piece seems to conceal an allusion to Bill's private life - probably to the solitude and unhappiness in his relationship with girlfriend Ellaine. He wrote the music to a text given to him by Carol Hall which he found deeply stimulating. As in a sort of private diary The Two Lonely People, which was originally entitled The Man and the Woman, sings of the impossibility for any kind of joy, and recounts the inevitable failure of men and women to hold on to each other ("the two lonely people have turned into statues of stone ... for love that once mattered is old now and battered ... "). A sense of incurable melancholy overtakes the listener. There is here that heavy atmosphere of communication break-down typical of the films by famous Italian director Antonioni made in the early 60s.
The lyrics of the song appear to have been a shocking omen of the future: a few years after its composition, in fact, Ellaine, threw herself in front of a subway train after hearing from Bill that he was leaving her for another woman. Brian Hennessey, an Englishman and mutual friend of the couple, would rightly comment on this tragedy saying "artists who show genius in one field often display ignorance in others." Recognition notwithstanding (he was voted best pianist by Down Beat in 1968, and his 1970 album Montreux II won a Grammy Award), it is difficult to consider this period of Evans' career one of noteworthy artistic evolution.

Still very much under the influence of drugs, having failed to free himself from their grip, he began to develop a denser and denser, at times hysterical, style. Driven by a blind energy, he seemed to have lost his sensitivity for silences, and their use in structuring phrasing, of which he had become such a master. It is hard, for instance, not to notice a disconcerting banality running through the Peri’s Scope of Montreux II, or the Gloria's Step of The Tokyo Concert, as compared with previous renditions. Evans' soloing shows a lack of his typical laid-back approach and also of formal sensibility. It is seemingly charged with a frenzy uncommon to him. As a result his playing seems to be missing that marvelous "breath", that dynamic variety, that sense of logical and meaningful discourse that had made his music so appealing. Gomez and Morell, unfortunately, did not hinder this tendency - on the contrary, they encouraged it. Only some years later Evans would regain, at least in some small part, that serenity in which his music's expressive possibilities were laying dormant. The Village Vanguard Sessions (1961) had been the result of one afternoon and one evening's performances(!), while The Bill Evans Album - exactly ten years later - took six days to record. Even if miracles, by their very nature, never happen twice, this discrepancy is more than a little significant, isn’t it?
(Bill Evans: Ritratto d’artista con pianoforte/Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist.Enrico Pieranunzi, Rome 1999, Stampa Alternativa)

6 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Anónimo dijo...

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manuel dijo...

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manuel dijo...

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dominic dijo...

This is a great post, and you make many wise points about Evans' artistry. However, I would argue that the 1968-1974 WAS in fact a fruitful period. Gomez and Morell can sound over-energetic at times, but I really believe that was the sound Bill was going for at the time.

You can definitely hear the difference between heroin Bill and cocaine Bill (not to belittle his career by dividing it in to drug-related chunks) and the latter needed that fire from the rhythm section to propel his new forward-moving sound. Some of my all-time favourite Evans recordings come from that period (eg: Serenity, 1970).

DjM dijo...

I agree with a lot of your points, but I also think it is the natural inclination (and right) of most jazz musicians to develop and change their sound. Evans was never going to spend his whole career trying to replicate 'Sunday at the V.V.' and I'm thankful that he explored a more energetic/propulsive approach, even if not all of his later recordings are to my taste.