Hot Wax: December 2017

November 30, 2017

Bill Evans

Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (Resonance)

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

It’s as if the jazz gods decided it was time to give the faithful something special, as suddenly appears a surprise recording dating to 1968 by pianist/composer Bill Evans, one of the greatest, most distinctive artists in jazz history.

This gift originated at a live performance at Netherlands Radio Union (NRU) in Hilversum, Netherlands on June 22, ’68, before a politely appreciative audience (near perfect crisply unison applause, no yelps and whoops – not to Bill Evans’ deep, sophisticated, beautiful music).

Evans and trio – considered by many the finest piano trio at the time – had released a recording not long before this concert, so apparently there was no thought to do another album so soon. So this music was stuck in a drawer or someplace where it wasn’t noticed.

How and by whom it eventually was discovered, the multiple people who took immediate interest in making an album and how it eventually got to Resonance and to you is an exciting, feel-good tale too involved to tell here.

So let’s talk about the music instead.

Bill Evans emerged in a big way in the ‘60s playing quite differently from the majority of musicians of the era who were still devotees of Parker, Gillespie, Monk, et al and exciting listeners with breakneck tempos, wild-eyed improvisations lengthy, adventurous and virtuosic solos, et al.

That’s when some folks started calling America’s contribution to the arts “noise.

In the midst of this roiling scene came Bill Evans, a light on the keys player, albeit not feeble. A composer and superb interpreter of lovely, spellbinding melodies, Evans could swing, but in a quieter, almost polite way, sometimes described as impressionism. He was easy on the keys.

Not his greatest recording (he won seven Grammies and was nominated 33 times!), Another Time is a fine representation of his, Gomez’s, and DeJohnette’s artistry.

By the way this is the third and final recording by this near unanimously esteemed trio. Why the end?

Oh, some guy named Davis – Miles to most people – scooped up himself a super rhythm section. Yes, he hired them all simultaneously.

Jazz piano trios often are predictable, each playing the same role on nearly every tune.

Evans is probably the exceptional exception. He plays thoughtfully and spontaneously, thus surprisingly. altering the generally accepted chord progressions, meter, tempo, and other components of bebop.

The trio often seems to play as one. Gomez and DeJohnette don’t back Evans (i.e. keep time) as much as play with him.

You only have to hear Evans once to know he was a romantic, and that quality is on display here.

The nine songs here include two of his best-known ballads and a third original.

“Very Early” begins as a lullaby, but all three pick up the pace and the tune sparkles. Gomez’s full-bodied tone does acoustic bass proud.

Evans’ “Turn Out the Stars” finds him at his most lyrical in the intro, then modestly swinging, with Gomez’s “walking” bass.

Apparently not afraid of being “commercial,” the trio tackles two hugely popular songs of the day.

Every singer with a decently sized fan base recorded Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Alfie,” Evans plays the melody straight and tenderly to begin, then brightens it just enough to make it sound delightful. The sparse applause is hard not to notice. Perhaps it was hardcore jazz fans, unhappy in the choice of a pop tune by a jazz icon.

Standards include “Who Can I Turn To” and “Embraceable You,” both of which are given the sensitive readings you would expect. “Embrace” is the Gomez show, as he solos beautifully throughout with Evans and DeJohnette occasionally inserting brief statements.

The other pop tune is “Emily,” a movie theme (“The Americanization of Emily”) that receives a lovely intro from Evans, as well as decorative comments in the upper register. Gomez offers a super solo, and you’re left wanting to hear more.

The one jazz tune is an excellent choice – Miles Davis’s catchy “Nardis.” The trio plays the heck out of it with extended, inventive, high-energy solos, especially the great DeJohnette, who gets his overdue solo.

Summing up, here is a special addition to your jazz collection, thanks to some people from two continents who felt obligated to get it to you. Enjoy. (Bob Protzman)

Alan Ferber Big Band

Jigsaw (Sunnyside Records)

  • John O’Gallagher – alto saxophone
  • Rob Wilkerson – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute
  • John Ellis – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
  • Jason Rigby – tenor saxophone
  • Chris Cheek – baritone saxophone
  • Tony Kadleck – trumpet, flugelhorn
  • Scott Wendholt – trumpet, flugelhorn
  • Alex Norris – trumpet, flugelhorn
  • Clay Jenkins – trumpet, flugelhorn
  • Alan Ferber – trombone
  • John Fedchock – trombone
  • Jacob Garchik – trombone
  • Jennifer Wharton – bass trombone
  • Anthony Wilson – guitar
  • David Cook – piano, keyboards
  • Matt Pavolka – acoustic bass, electric bass
  • Mark Ferber – drums, percussion
  • Rogerio Boccato – percussion (1, 6)

A jigsaw is an instrument of doing and undoing, a tool of cutting expression, and a reference to puzzles formed of interlocking designs. In short, it’s wholly representative of all that’s right and good with trombonist Alan Ferber’s writing. His work is a master study in piecing together and pulling apart, slicing right through to an idea, and thinking big without overlooking how small details come to shape full pictures.

Whether working collaboratively in the paint with saxophonist David Binney, expanding notions of what a nonet is capable of creating, occupying a trombone chair in any number of forward-looking large ensembles, or leading his own big band, as on the Grammy-nominated March Sublime (Sunnyside Records, 2013) and this arresting date, Ferber manages to make his presence felt. His playing, his arrangements, and his compositions all have a way of taking root as permanent memories for those on the receiving end, and with Jigsaw he gives us seven views into his conscious mind and subconscious impulses. There are opportunities to hear this beast of a band in full roar, soak up the conversation that comes with the gathering of breakaway bunches, and stare sui generis soloists in the face. And through it all, Ferber’s pen remains fresh as can be.

Layered expressions usher in “Impulso,” an album opener with a Latin-influenced undercarriage that shifts focus from Ferber’s centered horn over to John O’Gallagher’s bright and eager alto and Alex Norris’ bold trumpet. Then this ensemble thoroughly fleshes out guitarist Anthony Wilson’s intoxicating “She Won’t Look Back,” bringing a heightened sense of passion to the fore without overplaying its hand. It’s a performance that’s as well-paced as they come.

By the time the title track takes shape, when a loose encounter between O’Gallagher and drummer Mark Ferber coalesces into a tight and punchy thrill ride, it’s crystal clear that no single sound or style will ever come to define this band. The four tracks that follow further highlight that fact. “North Rampart” is pure plaintive beauty, with Wilson and saxophonist John Ellis tugging at the heartstrings; “Get Sassy” opens on a raunchy and woozy trombone section meeting, setting the scene for a bluesy stroll with plenty of personality; Ferber’s take on Paul McCandless’ “Lost In The Hours” plays like a modernist’s slant on Brazilian music, giving cause and pause to admire the handiwork of trombonist John Fedchock and saxophonist Rob Wilkerson; and Clay Jenkins’ “Late Bloomer” is a patchwork of artfully paranoid thoughts, given to focused written exposition by the leader and thorough exploration by the ensemble. Divergent ideals carry the day and prove triumphant on Jigsaw, maintaining interest and highlighting some of the many facets of Alan Ferber’s wide-ranging artistry. (Dan Bilawsky)       

Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz

  • by Fred Hersch with David Hajdu

Acknowledged as one of the most accomplished pianists in jazz, Fred Hersch may now be as equally recognized for his gay rights activism as well as the horrific bouts of illness that he has endured. Thus, his riveting memoir is both a keen look back on the makings of a distinguished career now in its fifth decade, and the unsparing tale of a grateful survivor.

The professional and the personal converge right from the start as Hersch finds his way as an aspiring jazz musician and, simultaneously, as a gay man. Candidly observing both these essential aspects of his life, Hersch offers up a dual portrait of an ambitious fledgling artist and a young man hungry for experience after relocating from Cincinnati to New York City in the 1970s. With admirable honesty, Hersch recounts his own fondness for drugs (one that he shared, literally, with name jazz artists of the time) and sexual encounters, recognizing his own uneasy balance of blinders-on ego and troubled insecurity. His remembrances of hanging out at the legendary nightspot Bradley’s soaking up the informal lessons imparted by a host of genius pianists, and his important sideman work with the likes of Joe Henderson, Sam Jones and Stan Getz have a gripping immediacy. So much so that dedicated jazz fans may find themselves disappointed that more time isn’t spent in detailed discussion of Hersch’s experiences with these giants as well as Art Farmer, Toots Thielemans and other luminaries.

By the 1980s Hersch uncovers his pianistic and compositional voice, fosters his talents as a bandleader, and finds his footing as an out-of-the-closet man, but the tragedy of AIDS is also clouding the New York sky. Hersch’s own ghastly dealings with debilitating HIV is presented with clarity, free of self-pity. Further hardship hits later in the form of non AIDS-related pneumonia that leads to a months-long comma–a shattering experience that leaves him unable to play his instrument. That Hersch not only survives, fully recovers his ability to play, and ultimately revives a career that has since flourished immeasurably (and even transforms his physical and emotional nightmare into substantial art: his musical theater work with Herschel Garfe in, My Comma Dreams) is a personal triumph, yet one that Hersch is quick to acknowledge the restorative role played by friends, the jazz community, and his partner Scott Morgan.

In his committed role as a gay rights advocate, Hersch has cast light on crucial lifestyle issues that were still taboo in jazz circles until the close of the last century. His smart and illuminating memoir reveals the makings of a superb musician and a fearless man. (Steve Futterman)

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