Pianist Bill Evans is perhaps one of jazz’s greatest pianists, thanks in part to his ability to blend innovative and complex rhythms with melodies that are never, ever unlistenable or demanding of an audience’s patience. His appeal was such that a musical theorist and someone who didn’t know anything about music could listen to his records, and both would come away satisfied. He developed simplicity of tone thanks in large part to his devotion to the trio format, accompanied by strictly a bass guitar and drums. Yet for a time Evans was very much an in-demand pianist, and The Quiet Passion of Bill Evans explores his vast discography of his early years and his many, many collaborations.
What is instantly striking about the music found here is Evans’s ability to blend in and adapt to his surroundings. Sometimes, he’s at the forefront, as when he joined the Miles Davis Quintet, where his performances on “Blue In Green” and “Stella By Starlight” are as notable as—if not more powerful—Davis’s own performance. Evans makes these songs his. On other tracks, such as his work with Charles Mingus (“Conversation”), Art Farmer (“The Touch Of Your Lips”), and Cannonball Adderly (“Who Cares?”) , his accompaniment accentuates without overwhelming. For some of his work, Evans simply slips into the background, his piano providing a subtle flourish that isn’t always noticeable, as heard on his work with the Michel Legrand Orchestra (“Round Midnight”), George Russell & His Orchestra (“Manhattan-Rico”), and The Dave Pike Quartet (“Why Not (Impressions)”). But Evans wasn’t afraid to experiment with more outré sounds, as heard on George Russell’s “Waltz From Outer Space” and the jaunty blues of Kai Winding Trombone’s funky take on “Black Coffee.”
But as wonderful and delightful as the numerous collaborations and appearances are, Evans’s star was always brightest on his own sides, whether it was solo, with his Trio, or even his rare Quintet recordings. Listening to his classics “How My Heart Sings,” “Waltz For Debby,” and “Nardis,” it’s easy to understand why they became staples of his; they’re simply sublime numbers which offer the listener a gentle respite, an easy-on-the-ears listening experience that, nearly sixty years on, has yet to lose its luster. The most moving of all is “Peace Piece,” released in 1959 on his seminal Everybody Digs Bill Evans, it is a serene, melancholic performance that feels longer than its six minutes and stays with the listener well after the song comes to an end.
After the fertile era of the early 60s, Evans would become more selective in his appearances; collaborations would take place, but not as the intense pace of his early years. His career would have highs and lows as he battled addictions and depression, and in 1980, his brilliant voice would be silenced as years of poor personal upkeep would catch up with him, dying on September 15th at the too-young age of 51. The Quiet Passion of Bill Evans is a fantastic four-hour collection, and though it barely scratches the surface of Evans’s discography—él Records could release two or three more box sets of similar lengths and still not come close to being definitive—this set is a fine, fine testament to a true jazz piano legend.
The Quiet Passion of Bill Evans: Collaborations, Trio, and Guest Sessions 1955 to 1962 is available now fromél Records/Cherry Red.
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