From unlikely acorns grow higher-than-expected trees, and so it goes with this Bill Evans live disc rescued from a past where it might have remained forever buried. This would automatically be a notable set for representing the lone high-fidelity live recording of a unit that lasted for two years, with Eddie Gomez on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums. Just as some college kids with impeccable taste were responsible for capturing Duke Ellington’s roadshow in Fargo, N.D., for posterity in 1940, we also have some undergrads to thank here. Larry Goldberg and future all-star jazz engineer James Farber interviewed Evans for their radio station at the University of Wisconsin, with Goldberg then using the station’s equipment to record this gig on Nov. 15, 1976.
Evans isn’t as bracingly ruminative as he’d become just before the end of his life, with real buoyancy present in his piano work on this night. Call it a lightness of touch, an almost Vince Guaraldi-like straddling between gentle melancholia and a heart aflutter with new hope. The sound on these eight cuts is sterling—thanks to the Plangent Processes system used for restoration and transfer—with Evans clearly digging the hell out of playing with Gomez and Zigmund. The former, on the set-opening “Sugar Plum,” provides spry, dancing notes that recall the lyrical support of Scott LaFaro without ever suggesting an homage.
Zigmund listens and adapts just as well. His trips around the kit—fills that delineate more than accentuate—with quick, breathy cymbal flourishes, are like percussive extensions of Evans’ pianistic textures. The band swings with an element of collective tonal sighing—a well-earned letting out of breath—on “Someday My Prince Will Come,” which is all pleasing verve and friendly bustle. Overall, not a crown jewel for the Evans discography, but certainly high-end topaz.