Hot Wax – April/May 2016

May 20, 2016

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Bill Evans
Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Black Forest (Resonance Records)

Bill Evans – piano
Eddie Gomez – bass
Jack DeJohnette – drums

The Black Forest in Germany has long been viewed as a land of enchantments, so it seems almost fitting that previously unheard studio recordings from the late Bill Evans should emerge from such a place after slumbering in a closet for nearly half a century. It’s a musical fairy tale come to life.

To say that the music presented on Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Black Forest is a find would be something of an understatement.  It’s the only studio material documenting the impressive and short-lived trio of Evans, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. It was recorded at the famed MPS Studios in Villingen, Germany, on June 20, 1968 – a mere five days after the triumphant showing that birthed this outfit’s Grammy-winning At The Montreux Jazz Festival (Verve, 1968) – and it captures Evans in the midst of a change to a more assertive and experimental approach.
There’s a heightened sense of dynamism in this music, and that can be credited in part to the pianist’s connection and response to his colleagues. The fleet-fingered and strong-willed Gomez served as a spark plug, firing Evans up and adding potency to his excursions, and DeJohnette brought an air of adventure and a propulsive touch to the music. One can only imagine what might’ve been if this lineup had lasted more than six months, but we need not wonder anymore what this group could’ve accomplished in a studio during its brief run.

Interplay is central to these performances, as with the work of every trio this pianist ever had, but this is not the gently intuitive Bill Evans Trio of yore. The elasticity in this group’s work, unlike the give in Evans’ earlier lineups, is consistently met with some wonderfully snappy recoil. That’s obvious right out of the gate on “You Go To My Head.” Gomez has a spring in his step, DeJohnette stirs his brushes across his snare in gently locomotive fashion, and Evans’ firm-handed chording seems to be on a constant forward course. There’s plenty of room for conversation in the mix, but there’s also a need to let the pulse buoy the music.  Many of the other album highlights from this group – a dimension-rich “My Funny Valentine,” two skipping and prancing takes on “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” a wonderfully conversational “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” – also speak to that balance.

The trio cuts are the obvious draw here, but the other material on this twenty-one-track program shouldn’t be overlooked. The small taste of Evans all by his lonesome is nothing to sneeze at, and the duo numbers with Gomez make for some of the most enjoyable listening on the album. Evans and Gomez were only two years into what would become a decade-plus association, but the musical kinship is already there.  They impress with a rhythmically playful “I’ll Remember April,” they demonstrate incredible reflexes and ears in their responsive work on “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” and they deliver a memorable “These Foolish Things” that makes you wonder why Evans never really took to that song.

As with all of the label’s releases, Resonance Records pulled out all the stops for this one. In addition to doing right by the music and the musicians, they spared no expense on the packaging end: They interviewed Gomez and DeJohnette for the occasion, located previously unpublished photographs from the session and time period, and included all of it in the accompanying booklet, along with essays from author-critic Marc Myers, producer Zev Feldman, and MPS Studios engineer Friedhelm Schulz. All of that adds to this compelling picture of a lost session turned found treasure. (Dan Bilawsky)

orphic

Ben Goldberg
Orphic Machine (BAG Productions)

Ben Goldberg – clarinet
Nels Cline – guitar
Ron Miles – trumpet
Rob Sudduth – tenor saxophone
Carla Kihlstedt – violin, vocals
Myra Melford – piano
Kenny Wollesen – vibes
Greg Cohen – bass
Ches Smith – drums

Denver-bred, San Francisco Bay Area-based musician Ben Goldberg has established himself as one the premier jazz clarinet specialists of the past decade or so, leading both his own ensembles, as a member of Tin Hat, and even as a member of an early edition of John Zorn’s klezmer-meets-Ornette Coleman quartet Masada. With Orphic Machine, Goldberg comes into his own as a composer – Machine is a suite of songs based on the “speculative poetics” by writer Allen Grossman, and while encompassing many styles it hangs together as a distinctive work.

Working with a medium-sized ensemble of top-shelf cutting-edge aces, Goldberg has a sumptuous palette to draw upon. His clarinet tone is rich as well – it has a warm, reedy (no pun intended – honest), middle-range tone, ever so slightly reminiscent of Eddie Daniels and Jimmy Guiffre. “Line of Less Than Ten” has a gently wafting folk-oriented melodic line sung by violinist Carla Kihlstedt, a vaguely Latin-esque lilt, and a strangely lush, cool backdrop of horns and reeds, evoking Gil Evans’ early 1960s work with Miles Davis (and trumpeter Ron Miles has a nice Miles-tinged solo herein as well). The nearly 13-minute title track is a panorama of American sounds, from the soothing, lithe, honey-and-lemon warble of Kihlstedt to the down-home-y, spacious passages reminiscent of Stephen Foster to the elegant parlor music (the elegant waltzes played by Kihlstedt and Myra Melford) to the volatile, piercing, Hendrix-like wail and distortion of Nels Cline juxtaposed against the Aaron Copeland/Leonard Bernstein-like orchestral grandeur. While all these cats are fine soloists in their own respective rights–and they do get brief chances to shine – this Machine is primarily an ensemble music, with no particular performer dominating, not even Goldberg, who is wonderfully self-effacing here.

Orphic Machine finds Goldberg growing as a composer of considerable scope a la John Zorn and Gil Evans – heedful of several seemingly disparate traditions and interweaving them in clever, fascinating, and lovingly irreverent ways. (Mark Keresman)

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