Bill Evans’ “Loose Blues” Out Again on CD

Evans 01

BILL EVANS: LOOSE BLUES / EVANS: Loose Bloose (2 tks); Time Remembered; Funkallero; My Bells; There Came You; Fudgesickle Built for Four; Fun Ride / Bill Evans, pn; Zoot Sims, t-sax; Jim Hall, gt; Ron Carter, bs; Philly Joe Jones, dm. / MILESTONE MCD-9200-2

Here is one of the late Bill Evans’ true masterpieces, made available again on CD (or, most probably, download…check your local sources and see if you can get it as a physical disc). The set consists of seven original pieces by the pianist, of which only two—Time Remembered and My Bells—became standard repertoire items, and the latter only when it was greatly simplified when he re-recorded it for Verve. The music, for the most part, is modal jazz harking back to the days when Evans played with George Russell, Miles Davis and Tony Scott, with only Time Remembered being the kind of “soft,” Debussy-like jazz with which Evans’ name is connected.

Before getting into the marvelous music contained herein, a history of the session is in order. Following the death of bassist Scott LaFaro in an auto crash, Evans completely withdrew from performing or recording for a year, eventually hiring bassist Chuck Israels to take LaFaro’s place, but he was still shy about recording since he felt he had nothing new to say. Then, all of a sudden in the spring of 1962, he approached Fantasy Records owner and producer Orrin Keepnews with the idea of not only making two complete trio albums but also two unusual group sessions, each with a horn and guitarist Jim Hall. Moreover, these sessions would not have his regular working partners, Israels and drummer Paul Motian, but rather the more dynamic backing of hard bop drummer Philly Joe Jones. The two horn players Evans chose for these two different dates (one with Percy Heath on bass, the other with Ron Carter) were also surprising: progressive swing tenor saxist Zoot Sims and young hard-bop trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.

Even more surprisingly, Evans chose to give Hubbard a set full of old standards (You and the Night and the Music, When You Wish Upon a Star, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams etc.) with only one original (a modal blues later titled Interplay), whereas the much more traditional Sims was asked to perform in an entire set of new and, for him, complex and somewhat puzzling pieces. In the liner notes, Keepnews recalled feeling, in the studio, that both Sims and Hall often appeared to be lost in the complex harmonic webs that Evans had fashioned, particularly in My Bells which, in this original form, was a multi-tempo piece that kept throwing them off, but that he (Keepnews) realized upon re-hearing the tapes 20 years later that both Sims and Hall actually performed much better than he had recalled.

But it wasn’t just Keepnews’ incorrect judgment that held up the release of this astounding album for so long; it was his irrational filing system that relegated the takes of each tune to a different tape box, all of them looking unrelated to each other on the outside, poorly marked and just thrown into the vaults helter-skelter. It boggles the mind to think that a record company owner-executive who obviously loved Evans’ work could even do such a sloppy job of this accidentally, let alone purposely, but such was the case.

Listening to the music now, it still sounds fresh and inviting for the most part, largely because of the later transmutation of My Bells from a challenging piece to a slow ballad but partly because of the utter vitality of the entire session. Spurred onto a different track by the rhythm section of Carter and Jones, Evans’ playing here rarely relies on his by-then-patented style of trickling right-hand runs over lush but “rootless” chords which he could thus transpose at any given moment. On the contrary, we hear in this set the early Evans of 1956 in full flower, playing crisp, single-note improvisations in the right hand with occasional left-hand chords dropped in, in imitation of one of his early idols, Lennie Tristano. In fact, for a listener who has never heard this recording, I would challenge anyone in a blindfold test to identify Bill Evans in the opening take of Loose Bloose. Tristano’s name is the one that kept popping into my mind as I listened to it.

Another challenging score for Sims and Hall was probably Fudgesickle Built For Four, a four-voiced canon reminiscent of some of the best early pieces by Dave Brubeck or Gerry Mulligan. Granted, this canon is only followed strictly in the first chorus and the last; in between, it is pretty much an open blowing tune; but the intricacy of it required split-second timing, as does the quirky theme of Loose Bloose, which sounds about as “loose” as a Thelonious Monk piece, which is to say, tightly written and quirky in its melodic contour.

By and large Sims rises to the occasion, putting aside his normally full-blooded tenor tone and playing in a light, almost breathy manner reminiscent of Stan Getz. This, it turns out, was wholly appropriate to the occasion. Perhaps Evans had Getz in mind but got turned down by that talented but personally churlish saxist. Still, there were other saxists whose style would have fit much easier into this kind of music active at that time, among them Booker Ervin, Benny Golson, Hal McKusick or Frankie Socolow. Ervin had already played some very complex scores with Charles Mingus, Golson was an outstanding saxist whose style bridged swing, hard bop and modern jazz, McKusick had worked with both the very advanced Boyd Raeburn band and George Russell, and the vastly underrated Socolow—who also played jazz oboe—was also an alumnus of the Raeburn orchestra. Any one of them, in my view, would have been a better fit, but no…for whatever reason, Evans had his heart set on Sims. Maybe what he loved about Zoot was his sheerly swinging style, but to think it would fit into some of these pieces was a bit of a stretch. Still, as I say, he did it.

Even so, Keepnews explains in the liner notes how nearly all these takes were spliced together from many varied and sundry attempts at these tunes. This was the nature of modern jazz, and jazz in general, during the early ‘60s. The scene was exploding in so many different directions that for an ad hoc group to come together and play seven offbeat new pieces well just wasn’t going to happen without extensive rehearsals, and recording studio time was too expensive (as it is now) to allow too many hours of woodshedding, so compromises had to be made.

Underlying everything in this set is the light but propulsive “bomb-dropping” of Philly Joe Jones, so named to distinguish him from the older and more famous former Count Basie drummer Jo Jones. His work here cannot be underestimated; he seems to know exactly how to play behind everyone on this session, making it all jell beautifully. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me, aside from Zoot sounding like Getz, is Ron Carter’s bass playing. He is the one soloist here besides Evans who really seems to relish the quirkiness of the tunes and their changes. It’s not that I didn’t expect him to play well, but I didn’t expect him to play with such alacrity. He almost sounds as if he had written these tunes himself.

The recorded sound is vintage early ‘60s: tightly miked but warm, with no reverberation around the intruments. I loved this kind of sound because it helped you focus on the music; you didn’t even “think” about the acoustic at all. It was just there, and it sounded right no matter what sound system it was played on.

Shortly after all of these sessions, Keepnews let Evans go and sign with Verve Records, who took over the pianist’s career and locked him into the soft, almost floated style of jazz with which his name is now inextricably identified, but on this set it is only Time Remembered that fits this profile. And some of the song titles are a bit tongue-in-cheek, which is why I think Loose Bloose doesn’t fit its name. There is also Funkallero, which has a kick but is tempered with cool, modal jazz, sort of a cross between something Art Blakey would have done and something Brubeck might have done; and once again, one is awed by the tasteful drumming of Philly Joe in the background—and his one extended solo. What an underrated drummer he was! On this piece, Zoot sounds more like the Zoot we know. And how Evans swings!

Perhaps the surprise of the set, to me, was this version of My Bells, which starts out not only uptempo but almost like a calypso piece. Would that Evans had kept these faster sections in the work instead of editing them out. I should also extend my praise to guitarist Hall, whose work often sounds (to me) too gentle and laid-back to be interesting. Here, he too varies his attack to match the mood of each piece, and literally plays his heart out. There Came You starts out like a “typical” Bill Evans piece, but as soon as Sims enters both he and the pianist sound more bluesy.

I could go into more detail on each piece and each solo, but why spoil the fun? If you haven’t heard this set, you need to. For the most part it’s a different sort of Bill Evans, showing us a side of the famous pianist that many of his fans might not even know about.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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3 thoughts on “Bill Evans’ “Loose Blues” Out Again on CD

  1. Terence Smith says:

    Renee, I just read your beautiful astute review of Bill Evans’ 2 quintet albums for Riverside, which I have always cherished as a road not taken by Bill but once !
    Bill Evans has so many dimensions he just touched on but once, then decided to go on “through the center ” of his main interests.

    I enjoyed your paragraph about how Hal McKusick or Benny Golson
    would have fit Evans concepts of 1962. Evidence of truth of what you say
    includes:
    McKusick’s April 1958 album,
    CROSS SECTION: SAXES has some wonderful Evans features. And I think
    Bill Evans was quoted as saying that Art Farmer’s 1958 Quintet album,
    MODERN ART, features Benny Golson and Bill Evans interacting beautifully on some choice material.

    I became aware of you by reading your review of Jack Reilly which he
    features on his web site reviews page.. I think I am going to reread your reviews later tonight.
    You really do justice to the things you review and analyze. So much that
    you augment learning, listening, and hearing.

    Like

  2. Terence Smith says:

    Lynn Rene, Excuse me for my sloppy letter above-
    I couldn’t figure how to space line breaks,
    and kinda lost my train of thought:
    I meant to say that Bill Evans was quoted as saying
    that MODERN ART was one of his favorite albums,
    because he fit the “hard bop ” situation so well,
    with no preparation. Similar to the beautiful
    way Evans fit effortlessly as a sub on Charles Mingus’
    EAST COASTING album- a gem.

    I just read the chapter list of your book,
    on from Baroque to Bop. This book is now on my
    list to read before I die, ( Already was
    due to your scope of insights and knowledge
    displayed on Jack Reilly’s web site feature.-
    your readers should check that out !).

    I will savor your thoughts about subjects
    like JOHN LEWIS presents :” Jazz Abstractions”
    and the wonderful Brandeis 1957 Concert. I know from
    reading your work that you will have reviewed
    these things with insight. And these are things deserving
    of wider public recognition.

    BTW Lynn Rene- If you have not seen it I think
    you would enjoy the autobiography of
    John LaPorta ( a participant at Brandeis concert
    1957, and founder of a great quartet with Jack
    Reilly in 1958.). LaPorta’s book is called
    PLAYING IT BY EAR, and is on Amazon.

    Well, sorry I am so wordy. But I enjoy your writing
    very much and will be a regular visitor to the
    ART MUSIC LOUNGE.

    Like

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