Bill Evans’ ‘Live at Ronnie Scotts Features Unreleased Gems From Jazz Piano Titan (ALBUM REVIEW)

Given Bill Evans’ iconic status in contemporary jazz, it should come as no surprise there’s been no shortage of posthumous releases since he passed in 1980. Evans In England and Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of The Gate are among those to precede Live at Ronnie Scott’s, the fifth such issue of unreleased music and it follows in the exacting tradition Resonance Records’  has established with all its titles in recent years. Headed by label founder Zev Feldman—who has rightfully become known as ‘The Jazz Detective’–the team of curators carefully researched, technically prepared, then annotated and packaged the music to meets the same lofty status standards this revered musician set over the course of the career.

In keeping with the fundamentally lovely and haunting quality of Bill Evan’s musicianship, this latest release is a rarity indeed. As revealed during a convivial conversation with none other than Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette was a member of Bill Evans’ trio for only six months, including the four-week run in 1968 at the legendary London jazz venue from which come the recordings in this set. Captured on tape by that master drummer himself, these live documents reveal the bond he quickly established with the pianist and long-time bassist Eddie Gomez, a chemistry in which melody and rhythm remained almost equally prominent on tunes like “My Man’s Gone Now” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” 

It may well be an established maxim that the best musicians elevate the performance of those around them, but in the case of these (near-) geniuses on their respective instruments, the level of inspiration is nevertheless breathtaking. Even on the familiar likes of “’Round Midnight” or “Stella by Starlight,” it becomes readily discernible how the insistence in DeJohnette’s playing finds an ideal complement in the deference Gomez displays. There’s a taut quality in their interplay too that provides an ideal backdrop for Evans’ own mellifluous tone, the sum effect of which is much different than that of the pianist/composer’s other great trios including bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian or their subsequent respective counterparts, Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera. 

The sound quality on Live At Ronnie Scott’s isn’t so deep or broad as that of its companion piece. There’s less ‘room’ here than on the other recent Resonance release Rollins In Holland. But it’s also true that, in a very real way, those trebly timbres suit the light touch(es) in action on this near two hours of concert content. In particular, the dignified elegance in Evan’s playing clearly does not preclude a palpably playful air that wafts uninterrupted from “Autumn Leaves” right into “Nardis.” The unpredictable yet accessible mix of atmosphere no doubt lent itself to repeated attendance at such extended runs as this one at Ronnie Scott’s and, notwithstanding scant repetition over two CDs, like two versions of “Emily,” such ambiance will surely enhance the durability of this item (and its vinyl counterpart). Which, in turn, will only further ratify Bill Evans’ hallowed reputation—as if that was at all necessary.

Fastidiously-designed to include evocative original artwork by the late David Stone Martin,  Live At Ronnie Scott’s overflows with historical information in the form of scholarly notes on the sequence(s) of events that led to its release. Importantly, though, the forty-four page booklet also contains insightful reflection from Gomez as well as the aforementioned conversation with DeJohnette and those probing interviews—as well as one with Chevy Chase who’s revealed within as an abiding friend of Evans’–serve to enlighten but never overstate the obvious to be gleaned from actually hearing the subject under discussion. 

The resulting combination of that prose with the panoply of photos enclosing these sterling performances should equally delight and edify aficionados as well as the curious novice. Both demographics are likely to rightfully treat Live At Ronnie Scott’s like a rare first edition book and thus assign it a deservedly honored slot in the musical library.

 

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2 Responses

  1. I’m just getting into jazz. Started exploring Bill Evans work after seeing his name in the current list of MoFi releases, and have become a fan.

    Guess you have to be a bigger fan than me to enjoy the awful sound quality of this release. It just doesn’t pass the ear test, especially considering it’s packaged and priced like an audiophile recording. Sounds like it was recorded by a guy with a tape recorder in the seat beside him (which it essentially was).

    Maybe there’s some historical value in this album. There sure isn’t much value from a listening perspective.

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