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Bill Evans: Behind the Dikes: The 1969 Netherlands Recordings (Elemental) / Bill Evans Trio: On a Friday Evening (Craft)

Review of two more archival live sessions by the venerated pianist, one from 1969 and one from 1975

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Cover of Bill Evans album Behind the Dikes: The 1969 Netherlands Recordings
Cover of Bill Evans album Behind the Dikes: The 1969 Netherlands Recordings

Bill Evans, like the shark (and like the shark in only this manner), emerged into the ethos fully and fundamentally formed. Part of the exhilaration with artists such as Miles, Coltrane, or Ornette lies in defining their Darwinian eras, scrutinizing evolutionary points between eras, perhaps picking an era as your own. Evans is closer to a candle burning in darkness. You must clear your calendar and concentrate on the flame as it flickers, dies down a microsecond for fuel, for oxygen, and almost instantly springs upward anew. Little by little that flame grows. It wanders where it will, though tethered always to its wick. And in real life, the flame guttered out before its rightful time, because Evans, keeper of the music, left sadly unattended the fuel for his own body, his own manifestation in the wax of flesh.

Since he died at 51, we venerate every recorded note he left behind. The release of two more live archival recordings (along with a five-CD career retrospective, Craft’s Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans, the fifth disc of which is identical in content to On a Friday Evening) leaves the pianist almost as busy 40 years after his burial in Louisiana as he was in life. On a Friday Evening gifts us an evening at the now-defunct Oil Can Harry’s, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1975. The bassist is Eddie Gomez (who joined Evans in 1966 and stayed until 1977), the drummer Eliot Zigmund. The threesome stick to relatively sparse, but rich, constructions; Gomez works logical-sounding single-note lines for his solos, instead of the furious sticky blots heard on the earlier Behind the Dikes. Even “TTT (Twelve Tone Tune),” an exercise in unconventional harmonic construction, seems secure in its underpinnings, approached with a collective confidence that unexplored waters still bob to their own knowable tidal charts.

Cover of the Bill Evans Trio album On a Friday Evening
Cover of the Bill Evans Trio album On a Friday Evening

Behind the Dikes gathers two dates from Hilversum, Netherlands, in 1969. Gomez on board, Marty Morell to the drum stool. No Evans trio ever sounded out, but the flame is at a decidedly odd angle here. Gomez connects the dots of the stars to fashion new constellations; Morell finds a solar system or two in his metal appendages—letting the hi-hat flop and slop open, shutting it for clicking tics, trying the lightest touches on the ride and crash cymbals for comparison/contrast. Evans lets each man speak with a distinctive voice and gives them honored places in the overall conversation. For himself, he lets left-hand chords ring when he feels it, couples those chords to the right-hand runs, never showboating, never overstepping, surefooted sublimely.

“It’s really a splendid document,” pianist Vijay Iyer says, specifically of Behind the Dikes, but of any live Evans session in spirit. “Especially since it’s live, they’re trying to reach people … They’re trying to build something consistent, to sculpt an experience for everyone in the room, and that’s a challenge.” That’s what Evans sat down to sculpt each night, 10 flickers of flame built into 10 fingers.

Bill Evans: Live at Ronnie Scott’s

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