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Bill Evans: Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate

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In the new millennium, archival albums of previously unreleased music have become a jazz record phenomenon. They are so prevalent that most jazz polls have now changed their “reissue” category to “historical/reissue,” so that new recordings do not have to compete with unearthed masterpieces. And there have been some masterpieces: At Carnegie Hall by Monk and Coltrane; Road Shows Vol. 1 by Sonny; Echoes of Indiana Avenue by Wes; Live in Europe 1967 by Miles. Now there is another: Oct. 23, 1968, two complete sets of Bill Evans at the Top of the Gate in Greenwich Village.

Evans may have played 200 nights in 1968 and this was just another gig, which is why the incandescence of the piano playing is astounding. Fast pieces like “Autumn Leaves” are explosions of affirmational lyricism. Slow pieces like “Alfie” are profound existential inquiries, personal and universal, illuminated from within by the glow of Evans’ chord voicings. In both versions of “Emily,” he turns the opening melodic figure into devastating human yearning just by lightly touching it. Gene Lees’ famous description of Evans’ music is “love letters written to the world from some prison of the heart.”

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