For their second and final jazz project, the adventurous Kronos Quartet (a top classical string quartet) performed eight Bill Evans compositions, plus "Nardis" (which Evans always claimed Miles Davis stole from him). Three songs apiece add either guitarist Jim Hall or bassist Eddie Gomez. The members of Kronos (David Harrington and John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola, and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud) do not improvise, but they expertly play Tom Darter's arrangements, some of which (particularly "Peace Piece") are transcriptions of pianist Evans' solos. Overall this was an intriguing project, as was Kronos' slightly earlier interpretations of Thelonious Monk tunes.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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This album is dedicated by the producer to the memory of Bill Evans, a good friend and a great creative force.
Special thanks for continuing helpfulness and friendship to Helen Keane, and to Al Brackman (and his colleagues at The Richmond Organization), Thanks for the firm support of the Kronos staff: Janet Cowperthwaite and Teresa Byrne; and to Mike Lang for special help with music research.
Above all, to Tom for his awesome charts, to Danny for his equally brilliant sound, and to Eddie and Jim for their skill and patience and empathy Bill Evans (1929-1980) was among the most significant musical innovators of our time. After him, the language of jazz was not quite the same as before.
His contributions to the vocabulary of the music are readily identifiable: there is a definite Evans sound, tone, harmonic approach-all evident in his own playing and in that of the many others greatly influenced by him. Ana in this unicque album, the Kronos Quartet and their two very special guests also celebrate Bill Evans as an important twentieth century composer, the creator of a distinctive, often daring, and wonderfully melodic body of work.
Kronos, since 1978 a close-knit and fiercely unconventional string ensemble, has built a very special reputation as a leading interpreter of serious contemporary music. The quartet has presented the work of such major current composers as Philip Class, John Cage, and Terry Riley, frequently in pieces created for Kronos. Disdainful of the accepted boundary lines between musical forms, they have already made one bold move deep into the heart of the jazz repertoire: the hiehly-acclaimed "MONK SUITE" [Lanamark LLP-1505], devoted to the music of Thelonious Monk, with bassist Ron Carter as featured soloist.
Now they have taken on a strikingly different, but equally adventurous project. Monk and Evans clearly represent widely divergent aspects of the jazz spectrum, but they do have elements in common. Both were unquestionably giants, each in his own way a pioneer and a revolutionary. I was fortunate in having long associations with both, producing a quantity of their recordings, including during a seven-year span between 1956 and '63) the first dozen Evans albums. So I have some very strong reasons for appreciating the recognition they have achieved, and for continuing to campaign for the broadest possible acceptance of both as major figures in the total American musical scene.
While Monk has long been recognized as a brilliant composer (though often maligned as not much of a pianist), Evans is idolized as a performer-but sometimes undervalued as a writer. Obviously those of us involved in the development of this album don't have that problem. But even such seasoned admirers of the artistry of Bill Evans as Eddie Gomez and Jim Hall joined me in being impressed (and almost surprised) by just how rich and varied this material turns out to be in these adaptations for strings by the multi-faceted Tom Darter [long-time editor of Keyboard magazine, pianist, Evans enthusiast, and the arranger who also scored the Monk album]. Their present form seems to reveal a strength and complexity of compositional values that were not so readily apparent back when these tunes were originally played in Bill's customary piano-trio setting. It was almost as if our old friend and colleague were still creating, still adding new dimensions to his work....
Eight of the nine pieces here are by Evans. The one exception is an almost-inevitable choice: Nardis, written by Miles Davis, is in the "modal" vein of the late-Fifties period in which Bill was part of the incredible Davis sextet that also included John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. Part of the pianist's repertoire for two full decades, it has become closely identified with him and has taken on a definite Evans coloration over the years. Even more inevitable was the inclusion of Waltz for Debby easily Bill's best-known song. These two and Very Early which Eddie Gomez recalls playing "in just about every opening set" during his eleven years with the trio, make up the segment on which the bassist joins Kronos. His enthusiasm for the project and the vast empathy and understanding he provided in the studio can surely be heard in these performances.
Jim Hall, the notable guitarist whose long friendship with Evans included two duet albums, appears on a second three-tune grouping. (Each segment is designed as a related unit; we got into the habit of referring to them as "mini-suites," which seems quite accurate.) The centerpiece of Hall's performance is a deeply-moving Turn Out the Stars, to which he appended a brief unaccompanied improvisation as a personal tribute to Bill. These are framed by two vivid and swift-paced selections-Walking Up and Five-that could help destroy the myth that Evans was merely a master of slow tempos. Five, incidentally, is most familiar in fragmentary form; it was the trio's invariable set-closing theme.
Three other numbers belong to Kronos alone: the intensely lyrical Time Remembered; the haunting and intricate Re: Person I Knew (a title I proudly identify as an anagram the composer constructed by rearranging the letters of my name!}; and in conclusion-because it would be a very tough act to follow - the noted tour de force called Pence Piece. Recorded in 1958 as an improvisation (almost inadvertently developed while he was trying to create an introduction for Leonard Bernstein's Some Other Time), it has almost legendary status in Evans lore. This performance is a transcription of that recording, with David Harrington, who interprets several Evans solos elsewhere on the album, taking the role of Bill's right hand throughout-described by the violinist as possibly the hardest work be has ever attempted.
Since this is by definition an album that bridges two musical worlds, it seems appropriate to end with the glowing reaction of Terry Riley, a notable current composer who also happens to be a strenuous Evans fan: The consummate artistry that Bill Evans brought to every moment of his piano playing is also revealed in these magical compositions, performed with exciting nuance by a group whose ecstatic recreations of contemporary music have redefined the string quartet."
-Orrin Keepnews (april, 1986)