Recording Date Aug 17,18, 1967 (The village Vanguard session 1967)
Philly Joe Jones was a member of the Bill Evans Trio for a short time in 1967 but none of his recordings with the pianist were released at the time. This two-LP set from 1982 features the pair (along with bassist Eddie Gomez who had recently started his own longtime association with Evans) in superb form. Jones consistently lit a fire under the pianist and, even though Bill Evans was never just an introspective ballad pianist (which became his stereotype), he does play with some unaccustomed ferocity on several of these selections. The 71 minutes of music feature strong versions of three of Evans' originals (including "Turn Out the Stars") plus a dozen standards, highlighted by "You're Gonna Hear From Me," "Gone With the Wind" and the unlikely "California Here I Come." Well worth searching for. In September 2004, Verve reissued the album in a limited edition, 24-bit remastered CD. Where the original disc sounded thin in places - as it is a live recording - the remastered version sounds consistently full and warm throughout. It will be available until September of 2007 in this format.
-Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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But what is most striking about these sides is the overall sense of exuberance, the extroverted quality. There are moments - for example, during Evans's very spirited dialogues with Jones on "Gone With the Wind" and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" - that come about as close as a piano trio album can get to the no-holds-barred spirit of the jam session. It's unusual for things to get this lively on anyone's piano trio album; the fact that they do so on an album led by the supposedly moody and dreamy Bill Evans may strike some people as being just short of miraculous. Actually, it is nothing of the sort. Evans was, as I noted, always capable of swinging just as hard as the next fellow when he put his mind to it. The fact that for most of his career he chose to concentrate on the quieter and more lyrical side of his music shouldn't have blinded the perceptive listener to the fact that the exuberant and propulsive side was there as well.
The more perceptive among his listeners weren't blinded to that fact. Helen Keane, who was Evans's manager and producer for many years, remembers how delighted the pianist had been when, during one engagement in San Francisco, he received a glowing review from singer Jon Hendricks, who at the time was moonlighting as the San Francisco Chronicle's jazz critic. It wasn't so much the fact that Hendricks liked what he was playing that tickled Evans, Keane recalls' as (he fact that the review made the bold assertion, carried in its headline, that "Bill Evans Swings, Man!"
That headline might have served as the title for this album; throughout, Evans plays as if he were out to prove that those words are true - and to disprove the words of those critics who occasionally had their doubts. Martin Williams, for example, once wrote, "There is an easy and forceful terseness in the playing of Evans the sideman that Evans the leader is not always in touch with." Whether or not that was true in general, it was certainly not true during the two nights at The Village Vanguard that are captured here. "Evans the leader" plays with as much ease, as much force fulness and as much bracing terseness as any critic, or any listener, coula ask for.
There were undoubtedly many reasons why Evans was playing with so much buoyancy and abandon at this particular stage of his career, but I think the key reason can be summed up in three words: Philly Joe Jones. By the time he joined forces with Evans in 1967, Jones's reputation as one of the strongest and most imaginative drummers of his generation had long since been solidified. An innovator, Jones did much to expand the melodic as well as the rhythmic vocabulary of his instrument, particularly during the years he spent with Miles Davis. He helped liberate the drums from their traditional, limited role as timekeeper, but he never lost sight of the importance of maintaining, beneath all the polyrhythmic embellishment, a steady, driving beat. He brought a sense of excitement to drumming that was informed by a keen musical intelligence and an unflagging sense of time.
Evans must have known that he was presenting himself with a certain kind of challenge, when he hired Jones to be his drummer. In his earlier trios, Evans had worked to develop a delicate, subtle brand of group interplay. In his famous trio with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, the emphasis had been on the complex interweaving of lines between piano and bass, with the main function of the drums being to hold things together without getting in the way. Following LaFaro's death in a car accident in 1961, the role of the bass became less prominent in Evans's trios, but the principle of delicate, subtle group interplay remained essentially the same. But once Evans took on a drummer like Jones, who was both sensitive and extremely powerful, the complexion of the trio was bound to change. There would still be group interplay, but it wasn't likely to be all that delicate or subtle.
And that is, indeed, what happened, as you can hear. Actually, Evans and Jones seem to have had a mutually beneficial effect on one another: Jones inspired the pianist to new levels of aggressiveness and high spirits, and Evans inspired the drummer, who in other contexts had occasionally displayed a tendency to overplay, to new levels of restraint and finesse.
You are bound to discover for yourself the multiple joys of the Evans-Jones collaboration, but I can't resist commenting on a few of my favorite moments. Note, for example, the piano-drums dialogues I mentioned earlier that come after Gomez's solos on "Gone With the Wind" and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams." On the former, Evans and Jones trade first eight-bar and then four-bar phrases, with the drummer both echoing the pianist and throwing in various familiar riffs from the jazz lexicon, before Jones launches into a concise solo that cleverly paraphrases the melody. On the latter, the two do something I had hardly ever heard before: they trade first eights and then fours, as they did on "Gone With the Wind," but then they intensify their conversation by trading twos and then ones, following one another's leads with an uncanny naturalness. And note Jones's discreet but emphatic use of brushes behind the long lines of Evans's solos on "California, Here I Come" and "Very Early." Jones's influence can also be felt, I believe, in the way Evans chooses to play certain songs. While this album contains its share of beautiful ballads, it also contains very sprightly uptempo readings of three tunes that are almost always played at ballad tempo: Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," and - most surprising of all - Evans's own "Very Early," a very pretty waltz which he usually played at a rather contemplative pace but which here comes out sounding downright perky. That Evans pulled off these rein-terpretations attests to his own innate melodic sense; that he tried them in the first place most likely attests to Jones's ability to light a fire under him. If I haven't had much to say so far about Eddie Gomez's contribution to this music, it is partly because it is the presence of Philly Joe Jones that makes this album so unusual, and partly because Gomez's value to the sound and feel of Bill Evans's music over the years has been well enough documented not to call for much in the way of additional comment. It is not because his performance here falls short of the mark. It's true that at times Gomez is a bit overshadowed by Jones, but I think that can be attributed to the fact that both men were relatively new Evans sidemen at the time of this session (Gomez had joined the pianist about a year and a half earlier, Jones a few months earlier), and Gomez may have been still feeling his way around to some extent. But for the most part Gomez sounds very much at home, and his work both as a soloist and as a member of the ensemble provides some of the brightest moments here - check out "Stella by Starlight;7 "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Emily" for starters.
Gomez's style owes a lot to LaFaro's influence - as do the styles of most bassists of his generation. Like LaFaro, he has prodigious technique and is not afraid to use the entire range of his instrument, especially when he solos. But he is also very much his own man; he is not quite as pushy a player as LaFaro was, being more likely to lay back, and he has a somewhat mellower, warmer sound and approach, Evans was struck by Gomez the first time he heard him play, in an experimental Gerry Mulligan band that was playing opposite Evans at the Vanguard (a band with which Gomez had arranged to appear largely so Evans would have a chance to hear him). He went on to become the first (and, as it turned out, the only) bassist with whom Evans achieved the uncanny degree of rapport he had reached with LaFaro. Gomez had recorded with Evans only once prior to this date, on a trio album with Shelly Manne, but this was the first time he had recorded as a full-fledged member of a reigular, working Bill Evans Trio. Considering what a new configuration this trio was, the relative ease with which the musicians work together is impressive. If these three had stayed together, they might have become one of the outstanding small groups in jazz history. "This was a trio that Bui had high hopes for," Keane recalls. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons having little to do with music, Jones did not stay around very long. His replacement was an inspired choice - Jack DeJohnette, whose style was equally powerful and inventive and, if anything, even more fluid - but he, too, had only a brief tenure with the trio, and Evans never again used a drummer with quite that degree of fire. He continued to make wonderful music for the rest of his life, of course, but he hardly ever again swung quite as overtly or as hard.
Interestingly, according to Keane, the reason these sides went unreleased for 15 years is that Evans, who was always excessively critical of his own work, decided after they were recorded that the music "wasn't strong enough." As she puts it, "This was just two nights of straight-ahead fun, and he may have thought he was regressing. He may have thought he was copping out.
"Bill was searching for a lot of things at the time and this was just a fun gig for him. There were other projects in the works that were more complicated and more to his liking. We agreed to hold the date and release it at some future time. "Then he got further and further away from it. He didn't dislike it, but it just never seemed like the right time to release it." Eventually, Evans switched record companies, and this session was forgotten.
That oversight has now been corrected, and our knowledge and appreciation of the scope of Bill Evans's talent has been expanded a bit by the unearthing of this 15-year-old musical treasure. The historical value of this find is clear, and so is its musical value. The musicians obviously had a good time making this record. I think you'll have an equally good time listening to it.