Friday, August 3, 2012

The Bill Evans Trio: Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate

Resonance Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate

All serious jazz fans are aware of Bill Evans’ impact on our favorite musical genre; that said, he was a late bloomer. As a 6-year-old, he began training as a classical pianist, became a proficient flautist at 13, and also could play the violin. But the piano became his love. Interestingly, he developed his skills backwards: He could sight-read anything put in front of him but, as he put it, “I couldn’t play ‘My Country ’Tis of Thee’ unless you put the notes in front of me.”

Evans also was very slow to learn the technical aspects of music; when he    began to play jazz professionally, the bassist would call out the chord changes. Evans hadn’t studied harmonics at that point, and he wasn’t able to improvise. All that changed as he studied music in college, under a scholarship.

Few artists have left us with such an extensive discography. During his all-too short career, he was featured on well over 100 albums: almost 50 as a sideman with name artists; more than 70 with various versions of his own groups (usually trios); and more than a dozen compilations (most released after his death).

This album — in many ways, one of his best — was recorded live on October 23, 1968, at the then-famous Greenwich Village jazz club Top of the Gate, which was located above the equally famous Village Gate; both were owned by Art D’Lugoff. Twenty-two-year-old recording engineer George Klabin was granted access to the club on that night by Evans’ longtime manager, Helen Keane. Klabin positioned microphones on each member of the trio and, considering the technology available at that time, the result is phenomenal; this album has been described as “quite possibly the best engineered and most gorgeous-sounding live recording ever made of Evans.”

Evans’ trio at the time included bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell; the former worked with the pianist for 11 years, while the latter had joined the group just that week. Two sets were played that night; both are included in their entirety. Evans was concentrating on standards then; only one of his originals (“Turn Out the Stars”) was included.

These two CDs contain a total of 17 tracks, and three tunes (“Emily,” “Yesterdays” and “ ’Round Midnight”) appear in both sets. Not to fear: The trio’s treatment is not in the least repetitive. 

The musicians weren’t constrained by time limitations associated with the usual  recording sessions; Evans, Gomez and Morell got everything possible out of each song. The result was perfection, as the club patrons well knew. 

Consider this: Thanks to this double-CD, listeners can witness a performance originally heard only by a very limited audience, experiencing one of the finest groups that ever existed. Lucky, lucky you!

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