Bill Evans’ Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby are undoubtedly two of the finest-crafted live recordings in jazz; the musicianship is legendary, the recording pristine. Yet listening to Live at Ronnie Scott’s, a “new” live album that captures Evans with his mythic 1968 trio—bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette—can make those two earlier albums sound a little sterile by comparison.
The 20 tracks heard on Ronnie Scott’s are culled from a multitude of nights over a four-week engagement that the Evans-Gomez-DeJohnette trio had at the London club in 1968, recorded by DeJohnette with a four-track tape machine and a mic set up between the bass and piano. The audio, even after production work by DeJohnette and Zev Feldman, still hisses and audience chatter can be prominent, yet those qualities make this live album feel more alive. Without the formal trappings of an “official” recording, the group can just play; can defy expectation or necessity to let the music take them where it will. On numbers like “Yesterdays,” the drums roar with a raw, almost punkish ferocity, reflecting the trio’s heightening intensity as they entwine in a collectively improvised rapture. Gomez’s fingers dance across the bass strings almost subconsciously, spryly braiding the melody of “Embraceable You” into a balloon animal of a solo that maintains the original’s lightness but holds a captivating new form.
But it’s on “‘Round Midnight” where this trio reaches its zenith. The role of rhythm section was already fluid in Evans’ groups, but here any distinction of timekeeper versus soloist melts away by the song’s two-minute mark. Time is implied, kept by the constant internal pulse of the group as the three musicians thread their own melodies together. A minute later, it’s hard to tell which of them leads as each voice, in constant motion, rises to meet the latest prompt from its fellows.