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CD Review : Bill Evans “Live At Art D’Lugoff’s Top Of The Gate”

Historic Performances Captured More Than 40 Years Ago

Art D'Lugoff opened The Village Gate in 1958 with the idea of seeking out the the hottest talent, hosting prominent jazz artists, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Aretha Franklin, and Miles Davis, as well as the best in comedy, including Bill Cosby, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen, and John Belushi. he turned away Bob Dylan, but gave him practice space in the basement. He fired a young Dustin Hoffman for providing poor table service. Playwright Sam Shepard once bused tables. For the next 3 and a half decades ‘The Gate’ was a Jazz Mecca. If you got invited to play The Gate, you were somebody, or you were going to be somebody.

A few years after opening The Gate, and building on the success of the venue, he opened up a club upstairs, The Top Of The Gate. On a cool fall night in 1968, D’Lugoff had managed to book the great Thelonious Monk Quartet and The Charles Lloyd Quartet in The Village Gate. Upstairs, there was only one piano player that could top the legendary Thelonious Monk and that was Bill Evans. And on this same night Evans brought with him one of jazz’s greatest ever trios, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell.

In the audience that night was a 22 year old George Klabin who was invited to come down to the club and record 2 sets of the trio. This wasn’t all that unheard of, a jazz lover being allowed to record live sets in clubs and as I have dozens of records to attest, it was usually disappointing at best and even disastrous on occasion.

I have dozens of “long lost live sets”, that sound like they were recorded by a microphone hidden in a trash can at the back of the room. I have terrible recordings of all the greats; Dizzy, Parker, Monk, and even Miles. It’s gotten to where I stopped buying live jazz recordings from the mid-seventies back without hearing them first. But Klabin, despite his age and maybe because of it, was driven to record the trio with the best technique a young budding recording engineer could at the time. Given unprecedented access to the stage and the artists by longtime manager, Helen Keane, Klabin meticulously placed separate mics on each member of the trio. What he got was a mix that is so clean that it nearly sounds as if it was done in a studio. It really is the next best thing to front row seats. It may even be the cleanest, lushest live recording of Evans ever captured.

Evans is perhaps the most important jazz pianist in post WWII jazz. He was known for reinterpreting jazz standards, but in a new way with liberal use of impressionist harmony, and his trademark rhythmically independent, "singing" melodic lines. this is at the forefront from the opening notes in the intro to the standard, “Emily” which ring out with a quiet brilliance as the background murmurs and tinkling of silverware of the assembled diners can be heard quieting in the background.

When Evans played this date, the great Eddie Gomez had been with him for two years, but amazingly – as the two sets will prove out – Morell had quite literally joined the trio that week. As is apparent, the trio quickly meshed under Evans leadership and vision. Here, they are at the top of their game, both collectively and as individuals playing within the frame work of Evans interpretations. Just take a listen to the way the bass and drum lock onto each other, then interact on the second set (disk 2) “Autumn Leaves”. For more evidence check out the two versions of the three songs played in both sets on both disks; “Emily”, “Yesterdays” and “’Round Midnight”. It’s a rare opportunity to hear the diverging takes on the same tune on the same night.

As producer Zev Feldman points out, several selections offered here possess historic significance; both “My Funny Valentine” and “Here’s That Rainy Day” (and possibly “Mother Of Earl”) mark Evans first documented trio performances of those songs, while “Here’s That Rainy Day” may be the first time Evans recorded the piece, period.

If all that doesn’t entice you into acquiring this album, the take note. Feldman and Klabin have worked very hard to assemble the historic and never heard before music with important context. the packaging alone, along with it’s thick booklet of photos, information, notes from the evening written by Klabin (who is the Executive Producer and worked on mixing and restoration of his tapes) as well as the reminiscences of the two surviving players; Gomez and Morell, offering reflections of not only that night, but their entire time with Evans. Klabin also explains his methods of recording the two sets and restoring the tapes and Raphael D’Lugoff looks back at growing up in the two monuments to jazz that his father created. The booklet alone is worth the price, and that may be perfect as the music is indeed, priceless.

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Robert Carraher