Bill Evans: The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy

An overview of Bill Evans’ sides on Riverside and Fantasy

This two-disc set bookends Evans most productive years, offering key sides from his initial stay on Riverside (1956 through 1963) and later work on Fantasy (1973-1977). The collection opens with a piece from his first album, 1956’s New Jazz Conceptions, and really kicks into gear with the formation of his first stellar trio (featuring Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums) for 1959’s Portrait in Jazz. With LaFaro’s death in a 1961 car accident, Evans withdrew from performing for several months, finally forming a new trio with bassist Chuck Israels and releasing two new albums (Moon Beams and How My Heart Sings!), from which the original “Very Early” and the Dave Brubek composition “In Your Own Sweet Way” are drawn. Paul Motian surrendered the drummer’s throne to Larry Bunker for the last of Evans’ albums on Riverside, Live at Shelly’s Manne-Hole, after which the pianist move over to Verve.

Evans’ years on Verve (which can be sampled on The Best of Bill Evans on Verve) included some remarkable experiments, such as the overdubbed Conversations with Myself, and it was while on Verve that he connected with bassist Eddie Gomez. Gomez was still part of the trio (along with drummer Marty Morell) when Evans landed at Fantasy, opening his run with 1973’s The Tokyo Concert. When Morell departed, Evans and Gomez recorded as a duet on 1974’s aptly-titled Intuition. Though Evans recorded the majority of his catalog with a trio of piano, bass and drums, this set includes several interesting non-trio sides. 1958’s “Peace Piece” is a terrific solo performance that foreshadows other pianist’s 1970s improvisations, a date backing Cannonball Adderly yields a soulful take on Evans’ “What What I Mean?” and fruitful collaborations with Kenny Burrell, Lee Konitz and Tony Bennett are featured.

Disc two picks up where disc one left off, opening with a quartet featuring Zoot Sims and Jim Hall, and a remarkable solo recording that pairs the love theme from “Spartacus” with Miles Davis’ “Nardis.” Though these tracks were recorded for Riverside, they were lost in the shuffle of Evans’ switch to Verve, and left unissued until the early ‘80s. Evans’ years at Fantasy were spent mostly with the trio of Gomez and Morell, though by the end of the run the latter had given way to Eliot Zigmund, featured here on the closing “I Will Say Goodbye.” As on any cherry-picked collection, once could debate whether the track selection is “definitive,” but the span of these two CDs gives a fair view of Evans’ time on Riverside and Fantasy, and with the original albums still available, this is a useful roadmap guide for newcomers and an enjoyable summary for fans. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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