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Jazz Icons Releases a Thrid Volume of Vintage Live Performances

Sonny Rollins

With their dramatically drooped heads and shoulders, the members of Bill Evans’ 1964 trio look like an early, pre-electric shoegazer band in a Swedish broadcast that’s practically jazz-noir, a typical stylistic touch in the ongoing Jazz Icons series. This third volume matches its predecessors as an imagistic bonanza of mostly black-and-white European footage, executed with a filmmakers’ panache. From the opening show on disc one, a Sonny Rollins corker from Denmark in 1965, it’s evident that real planning went into these shoots, as if the producers had worked out storyboards for when to focus on a ride cymbal as a beat was about to change, or when to cut to a pair of pursed lips as a solo was set to commence.

The Evans material, which covers five performances over 11 years, would make for one psychologically probing and challenging live album if you were to part the music from the images, but it’s the images-and often those that arise from small gestures-that influence how we hear this music. A visibly weary, and perhaps weary with rage, Nina Simone all of a sudden becomes positively apoplectic during a sequence from Holland in 1965, as she kicks into the second half of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” stammering and inveighing as though she were the opening act for the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s harrowing and almost impossible to look away from, as is the bawdy “Go Limp” two songs later, a cheeky parlor number that has Simone cracking up, just when you thought there was no way this woman could muster any laughter. A heartening turnabout.

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