CD REVIEW:

Bill Evans / Don Elliott:
"Tenderly: An Informal Session"


Milestone MCD-9317-2

Bill Evans -piano
Don Elliott - Vibes, vocal percussion

CD review by JAN STEVENS, webmaster


This CD is early Bill Evans, (around the time he was just starting his own recording career for Riverside Records). Exact dates for this session are not given but by this time, he had already recorded with Jerry Wald's Orchestra, singer Lucy Reed, guitarist Dick Garcia and a few others, but was not yet known as a jazz artist in his own right. This date is in an informally-taped session with musician Don Elliott (vibes and some 'vocal percussion' here) at Elliott's home in Connecticut, circa 1956-57.

If you're a total Evans aficionado or a professional pianist, you'll find a lot here to discover in Bill's emerging harmonic thought processes, as we hear him working out changes and hanging loose and easy with some blues progressions, but its sometimes tough going with the not-quite-up-to-par baby grand played here. Some keys in the lower register sound "choked" and, and the upper octaves are just out of tune. It's not awful throughout , it's just somewhat annoying at times, as "Someone in Love" demonstrates. The worst of it is on "I'll Know" from the musical "Guys and Dolls". "Thoe Swell" is even worse, but sounds like it was perhaps taken from another day's sessions. There is also some slight distortion now and then, as well as traffic sounds from outside etc., but Fantasy did a nice job cleaning much of it up, and mastering all this, despite its flaws. Adding to the informality is a few conversational fragments between the two men included as well. The title tune and others like "Laura", "Stella By Starlight", "Everything Happens To Me" , "Like Someone in Love"and Evans own "Funkallero" are featured, all of which the pianist would professionally record later in several versions with his various trios.

Elliott adds spark to Bill's introspective comping with his often bright and bluesy vibes, and its a fun ride to hear Bill romping on the two off-the-cuff blues structures here. Blues was not a form Evans gravitated to often, but he sounds loose and swinging here, like he's just enjoying this jam session. We even get a rare rendition of Sonny Rollins' tune "Airegin" as an Evans piano solo. Some run-throughs like "I'll Take Romance" are not played to conclusion, but if one keeps in mind from the start that this is truly an "informal session" , there's some fun and even a theory lesson or two to be had here. But it needs to be emphasized that this recording is not for those with just a casual acquaintance with the later work of this jazz piano master, as few of these would be considered 'performances' by any standards, and certainly by those of the relentlessly self-critical Bill Evans of the mid-fifties. As an historical document it has its interesting points to ponder for musicians -- and of course, pianists will be fascinated to hear Bill as he explores on his own time, slowly reaching for sonorities in the Scriabin-esque combining of upper extensions and polychords after the "take" of "Everything Happens To Me", a high point of this CD, and maybe worth the price of admission, at least for keyboardists. The chordal development is just incredible to follow along with as we hear Bill in these private moments of musical experimentation. Evans' genius was quite clear even way back then, as he occasionally offers some clever indications of what was to come during his solo career -- the rhythmic displacement, those close block chords, the inner harmonic voice movement, etc..

Again, if your a devoted Evans fan, you'll be quite taken, albeit in an almost "voyeuristic" way, since this was just a taped-for-fun practice session between two musical friends, and may have been work towards a project never undertaken , but surely this home-recorded session was meant as just that. That being said, its hard for me to recommend this to the general jazz listener, but for collectors and true Evans adherents, you'll be rewarded in some very different ways by this rare portrait of the artist as a young man.

ŠJan Stevens 2002. All rights reserved.

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