BILL EVANS: "Consecration"
Milestone 8MCD-4436-2 (8-CD set)
A REVIEW BY
SAMUEL CHELL (firstname.lastname@example.org)(used by permission)
I had assumed that these
recordings fit into the category of "he plays well under the
circumstances." Forget the qualifiers. Listening to this set
and the previously released "The Last Waltz" is a bit
like sharing the experience of the wild-eyed poet who has returned
from feasting on the milk of paradise in Coleridge's "Kubla
Khan." After tasting such nectar, nothing henceforward can
satisfy the palette. So if the two sets (16 discs) comprising Bill's
last stand seem extravagant in quantity and price, consider the
possibility that they represent the musical equivalent of Keats'
Grecian Urn, offering "all ye know and need to know."
Not that Bill's playing over eight nights is uniformly sublime.
The first couple of discs might sound, to a trained Evans' observer,
just a trifle more tentative whereas the last two bear a few faint
traces of fatigue and auto-pilot. So if you have an opportunity
to choose, go with Discs 3 and 4 of either set. In particular, I
especially recommend Disc 3 as evidence of Bill at the zenith of
his creative powers not to mention piano prowess. He was late in
arriving, so another headliner pianist--Danny Zeitlin--temporarily
filled in for him. Knowing, first, that the bar had already been
set high and, second, that Zeitlin was still hanging around in the
audience, Bill turns in an extraordinary set. On "Your Story"
the dynamics positively "swell" from ppp to fff and back,
yet the piano sound remains full-bodied at every volume level. On
"Someday My Prince Will Come," Bills launches perfectly-executed,
not-stop pyrotechnical phrases at breathtaking speed. (Cinderella
has never sounded this animated, dramatic and alive!)
How to explain this extraordinary demonstration by a human being
who would virtually self-destruct the following week? Little has
been said about what a perfect mechanical specimen Bill was, practically
"designed" for one purpose: to the play the piano. His
exceptionally thick and heavy fingers, his hand position, his arm
placement--none of these deserted him even when the internal organs
had gone. The combination of muscle memory and a mind capable of
focusing on nothing beyond the musical instant managed to keep death
at bay through the vitality of art.
The music herein is light years beyond what any pianist since has
been able to conceive let alone execute. The only "faults"
that might be weighed against any part of it are, first, that Bill
occasionally has a tendency to get ahead of himself--the force of
his passion and complexity of his ideas simply providing more than
the moment can bear. All the more remarkable that the form holds,
after bending sufficiently to create dramatic tensions that underscore
the magnitude of the artist's grandiose design and achievement.
Second, Bill invites some disruption of continuity and let-up of
dramatic urgency whenever he defers to solos by Johnson or LaBarbara.
But these moments, too, are understandable--respites that allow
the pianist to gather his strength for yet another glorious burst
of lyric energy.
"Consecration" captures all of the first sets of the stand
that would prove to be Bill's valedictory, whereas "Last Waltz"
is composed of the second sets. But lest that encourage a choice
between the two collections, be aware that Bill comes charging out
of the gate like a rampaging bull, or perhaps more aptly, a full-grown
Samuel Chell, a top 100 amazon.com reviewer.
by express written permission of the author. All rights reserved.