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Bill Evans Trio: Consecration

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Around 1970, when Bill Evans was playing at that long-defunct Hollywood landmark Shelly’s Manne-Hole, the drummer-club owner told me, in reference to Evans, “a real jazzman is a guy who never plays the same thing once.” This eight-CD collection, the sister set to The Last Waltz box set, not only epitomizes that definition but also has the added tragic realization that they contain Evans’ final recorded statements. Like The Last Waltz, the CDs were recorded live at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner (another long-shuttered jazz venue) over the course of eight nights, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7, 1980-that gig ending just eight days before Evans’ death. The tapes were digitally edited in Tokyo during the summer of ’97 and in late 2002 Fantasy issued them as Consecration on its Milestone label.

What is so remarkable about this collection is the concept of releasing the first sets from each of those eight nights. Fortunately, but not surprisingly, there are many repeats of tunes. Given Evans’ improvisatory genius, no devotee of his playing-for that matter, no first-time listener-has any legitimate excuse for complaining. The reality is he simply could not play the same thing once. An eloquent example comes to mind on track two of disc two: at no time during the first two choruses does he play the melody of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” and even the out chorus is characteristically oblique. Ditto for the very next cut, “Like Someone in Love.” After fragmenting the original melody and analyzing it thoroughly from different angles and prisms in various keys, he may, or may not, glue the pieces together and allow the mist to dissipate.

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