Bill Evans – Evans in England (review)

Bill Evans – Evans in England (Resonance Records)

Previously-unreleased live recording of jazz giant in 1969

No label has done more for jazz in the last decade than Resonance Records. Their co-president, Zev Feldman, literally traverses the globe in search of rare recordings by legendary artists. Yet, it’s the label’s attention to detail that truly puts them in a class all their own. Each new release comes with an exhaustive booklet, featuring rare photos and extensive background notes, adding further detail to each recording, and, as a result, enhancing the legacy of jazz itself.

Their latest project is a concert recording by Bill Evans from 1969 entitled Evans in England. The piano legend is joined by longtime bassist Eddie Gomez along with drummer Marty Morell, who had recently joined the trio at the time of these shows. The recordings were made by a fan of Evans’ for personal enjoyment, not commercial release, yet they are of surprisingly good quality.

The venue, Ronnie Scott’s in London, was a favorite of Evans. It was a place he felt comfortable. And, this is an important factor: when an artist feels at ease, the performance becomes more than just a paid gig – it gives him a chance to be himself.

The track listing for the two-disc set is impeccable, covering a lot of terrain, from standards like “Stella By Starlight” and “Our Love is Here to Stay,” to Evans’ classics like “Waltz For Debby.” But, the trio also tackle the Miles Davis classic “So What,” which Evans played on the original recording from Kind of Blue – it’s a thrill to hear this familiar classic reworked for the trio setting.

There’s a buoyancy to these performances. Evans is one of the all-time great melodicists on piano – yet often in his career, there’s a shroud of sadness that lingers. Here, a lot of the music seems to be floating – as on the superb version of “Round Midnight.” “Elsa” is another song Evans tackled many times, but rarely at this fast of a tempo. “Stella By Starlight” is bouncier than the version he cut with Miles, and gives Gomez a chance to really shine.

And there’s more here than just great piano playing – listen how all three musicians talk back and forth as on “Very Early.” The set closes with a gorgeous rendition of the standard, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”

There are multiple essays in the accompanying booklet that go into how these rare tapes finally saw the light of day. Really, for a single microphone recording, you can hear all three musicians clearly.

There are a handful of minor quibbles with the sound: from time to time, when all three players are really cooking, the music will distort (remember, this wasn’t intended for actual release). Also occasionally, the tape slows down (as if someone bumped up against one of the reels), like on the intro to “Waltz For Debby.” Yet, Evans is so joyful in these performances, it doesn’t matter.

Don’t let the “previously unreleased” tag scare you off. Evans in England is a fantastic showcase of Bill Evans in his prime. —Tony Peters