Bill Evans • At Town Hall Vol. 1

Verve/Speakers Corner V6-8683
Single 180-gram LP
1966/2010

Music

Sound

Bill Evans • At the Montreux Jazz Festival

Verve/Speakers Corner V6-8762
Single 180-gram LP
1968/2010

Music

Sound

by Marc Mickelson | April 15, 2011

ike Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans influenced a generation of jazz pianists who followed him, including some of the best working today. The two were exceedingly different musicians, their playing coming from contrasting creative impulses. Monk was a rhythmic and harmonic innovator who instinctively played off expectations rather than along with them. Evans' impressionistic playing was introspective and gentle. He sought to probe existing musical vistas rather than conquer new ones.

More than any other pianist, Evans embraced the trio format, creating a string of acclaimed releases on the Riverside label with various bassists and drummers before moving to Verve, where he continued down the same path, releasing these two live sets recorded in New York City and the resort town of Montreux, Switzerland, within two years of each other.

Evans' best-known trio, the one with which he recorded so many of his classics, included bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. LaFaro died in a car accident in 1961 and Motian was in great demand throughout his career, forcing Evans to surround himself with a stable of sympathetic talent. The bassists for these two concerts were responsible for the music's distinct pulse and flow. In NYC, consummate sideman Chuck Israels underpinned Evans' explorations, giving time to the leader's tranquil soloing. Eddie Gomez was a fixture with Evans, and he provided a challenging rhythmic backbone and some fiery soloing in Montreux -- especially on "Embraceable You," which is clearly his number. Neither of the sessions' drummers was well known when the recordings were made, but Jack DeJohnette, who played on Montreux, would ascend as an inventive leader and member of Keith Jarrett's steadfast trio. The Montreux session was the only recording featuring Evans, Gomez and DeJohnette.

The Bill Evans catalog may be the most frequently reissued, with the best-known titles available in multiple versions, both analog and digital. The especially quiet vinyl here -- a Speakers Corner hallmark -- allows all of the subtleties and dynamic shading in the playing to shine through. The sound on Town Hall is more forward than that for Montreux, which displays greater lateral spread and air, giving a more realistic approximation of the trio in space.

Over the decade that followed the release of these two albums, Bill Evans continued to be a magnetic concert draw all over the world. A number of those late sessions became an enduring part of his recorded legacy as well as a testament to the significance of the trio format he championed.

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