Jazz pianist brings more to final recording | TheUnion.com

Jazz pianist brings more to final recording

Bill Evans Trio
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Bill Evans Trio Milestone

When Milestone Records issued a four-disc boxed set of contemporary jazz pianist Bill Evans’s performances at the Bay Area night spot Keystone Korner a week before his death at the age of 57 in 1980, it figured the recordings were his last.

However, the issuance of a new eight-disc boxed set of recordings, also made between Aug. 31 and Sept. 7 at the Korner, proves it’s never over until it’s over. And like the earlier sister issue, “The Last Waltz,” the latest compilation is a gem.

Evans has been described repeatedly as an introspective pianist and the description fits him well.

But he was a musician who also knew a superior melody when he heard it and had the good sense to respect it, even when he chose to interpret it on his terms. And there are few pianists who are more forward-thinking as Evans, even during his last days.

In truth, the jazz icon may have been playing even better at the end. Though he was short on energy, he also knew he didn’t have long to live and he poured himself into performances of songs that had become his favorites.

As a result, the 60 selections represent a generous collection of songs that he had played again and again. On six of the eight discs, Evans’s closing tune is the ballad, “My Romance,” while “Like Someone In Love” shows up five times and “Days Of Wine And Roses” four.

Despite the preponderance of repeats, Evans and longtime bandmates bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe La Barbera, manage to say something new with each rendition.

So, rather than overkill, the songs become new adventures in good listening.

It’s interesting that although Evans and everyone else knew he was soon to die, there’s no sign of sadness in his performance.

No endless succession of dreary tunes turned into dirges. Instead, his nightly sets featured both upbeat melodies as well as tender ballads.

His sidemen were close to their leader, but they, too kept their emotions in check and gave Evans brilliant support as they weaved their ideas into their leader’s rich harmonics and intricate improvisations.

If you already own the proceedings from the pianist’s first volume recorded at Yoshi’s, don’t expect to find a great difference in the selection of songs. Entries like “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “My Foolish Heart” and “Polka Dots And Moonbeams” are part and parcel of both boxed sets.

But what you can expect are glorious examples of how Evans could find so many ways to mine the beauty in any song.

In this set, Bill Evans is at the top of his game presented in a package that includes numerous photos and fascinating narratives.

Cam Miller is a freelance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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