BILL EVANS: "Consecration"
Milestone 8MCD-4436-2 (8-CD set)

A REVIEW BY SAMUEL CHELL ( 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 Keats.

By Samuel Chell, a top 100 reviewer.

Used by express written permission of the author. All rights reserved.


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