The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy incorporates highlights from nearly the entire career of one of jazz music’s greatest pianists, Bill Evans (1929-1980). Beginning in 1956 with a stellar rendition of “Speak Low” and ending in 1977 with “I Will Say Goodbye” (from Evans’ final Fantasy Records session), these tunes offer a portrait of one of the genre’s most influential musicians. With excellent remastered audio and a newly-written essay by jazz writer Doug Ramsey, Concord Music Group has added another winner to their Definitive series.
“Peace Piece,” an original Evans composition, is an early highlight. Recorded as an unaccompanied piano solo in 1958, it’s representative of the beautiful introspection found in Evans’ playing. “Blue in Green” is a stunning ballad from 1959 that resulted from a collaboration between Evans and Miles Davis. Evans served as the pianist in Davis’ 1958 sextet for less than a year. In that time he had a profound influence on Davis, who would later say of Evans, “He plays the piano the way it should be played.”
“Blue in Green” begins a string of tunes found on disc one featuring the revered Bill Evans Trio, with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. LaFaro, a phenomenally gifted improviser, died in a car accident in 1961 at the age of 25. The trio reformed later with Chuck Israels as bassist, with one track from each of that second trio’s albums appearing here. Though a large gap exists from 1963 to 1973, due to Evans recording for labels not included in this release, several tracks from the second disc feature Evans’ longest-lived trio. This one included Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums. Gomez’s marvelous improvising is prominent on the included live version of “On Green Dolphin Street” from 1973’s The Tokyo Concert.
Additional solo piano pieces highlight disc two, including a medley of “Spartacus Love Theme” and Miles Davis’ “Nardis” from 1963, and “The Touch of Your Lips” from 1975. The only vocal on the album is courtesy of Tony Bennett, who recorded The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album with Evans in 1975. Their classy duet on “Young and Foolish” is included. A 1976 recording of the gorgeous Thad Jones ballad “A Child Is Born” features fine work by Ray Brown on bass, Kenny Burrell on guitar, and Harold Land on tenor saxophone.
As with any artist represented in Concord’s on-going Definitive series, Bill Evans’ full catalog requires close inspection to fully appreciate his work. But The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy is a great introduction to the recordings of the late, great jazz piano master.