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Music Review: Bill Evans – Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate

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For Bill Evans fans, is there really anything else that needs to be said other than the new two-disc Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate contains 90 minutes of previously unreleased music? Well, for one thing there is the question of sound quality. I am certain that many of us have been taken in by the “previously unreleased” tag, and have been highly disappointed to discover that the results were barely listenable. All too often these types of things were recorded surreptitiously from the back of the room, and then sat in someone’s attic for decades. I know that I am not the only one who has laid down hard-earned bucks for something that should never have been released at all.

This is not at all the case with Live at Top of the Gate. The recording was made by George Klabin, with the full consent of the Trio. Consequently, Klabin was able to set up separate microphones onstage for Evans’ piano, the bass of Eddie Gomez, and the drums of Marty Morell. This was the incarnation of the Bill Evans Trio that night. Based on these recordings, one would never suspect that the Trio had not been together very long, as all three are perfectly attuned to each other.

The Top of the Gate was the room above The Village Gate club in Greenwich Village. It was a place that Evans liked to use in between tours, either to test out new material, or just to keep the band’s chops up. On October 23, 1968, the Trio played two sets, and both are presented here. Of the 17 songs, three are repeated, “Emily,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “Yesterdays.” While this may sound like overlap, it really is not. While the songs are indeed the same, the solos Evans takes are completely different.

As Evans is quoted in the liner notes, “Jazz is not a what, it is a how. If it were a what, it would be static, never growing. The how is that the music comes from the moment, it is spontaneous, it exists at the time it is created. And anyone who makes the music according to this method conveys to me an element that makes his music jazz.”

This is certainly born out in the music. This trio had an interesting dynamic. Bill Evans’ sparkling piano is front and center, as it should be. But Gomez takes a bass solo in every song. I’m not sure if it was just his style, or if he was “showing off” a bit for the boss, but some of his solos are a little overpowering. Enjoyable yes, but a couple of times I wondered if his fingers might trip over themselves. There are moments where it is almost as if he is trying to duplicate Coltrane’s famous “sheets of sound” on the bass. I have to be honest though, maybe I’m just too big of a Bill Evans fan, and resent anyone “intruding” on his piano playing.

The drumming of Morell is remarkable in its own way. The closest thing he ever comes to a solo are a couple of drum breaks. But he most definitely keeps it all together. It is amazing how he manages to keep the beat, yet never really draw outright attention to himself. He was the perfect choice for this trio.

Then there is the piano of Bill Evans. How he managed to be so inventive, while making sounds that are so pleasing to the ear is beyond me. And he did it every time. The man never repeated himself, as is proven over and over throughout the course of the two sets presented here.

We owe Zev Feldman of Resonance Records a debt of gratitude for this seeing the light of day after all these years. The music is nothing less than stellar, and it is presented in a beautiful package. The liner notes are by Nat Hentoff, Gary Burton, Eddie Gomez, Marty Morell, George Klabin, and Mr. Feldman himself.

Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate is a real treasure for jazz fans, and an absolute must for Bill Evans fans.

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