All posts by kruekutt

Grateful for my beloved wife, son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren and siblings. Also a lover of theology, music, history, philosophy, classic novels, science fiction, fantasy and Looney Tunes.

Record Store Day 2022: A Resonance Records Round-up

Sure, Record Store Day (Saturday, April 23rd this year, after a couple of pandemic-fraught years of multiple, shifting dates) has unquestionably changed during its 15 years of existence — now dominated by catalog reissues from the major labels instead of indies, often indulging the worst sorts of collector mania, making eBay a scalpers’ paradise for weeks afterward, then clogging store shelves for months to come. But away from the hype, the endless lines and entreprenurial gnashing of teeth, RSD has become a genuinely exciting day for jazz fans, thanks to labels like California’s Resonance Records.

The brainchild of experienced jazz producer/engineer/studio owner George Klabin, Resonance is uniquely structured as a philanthropic project, set up as a division of the non-profit Rising Stars Jazz Foundation. While continuing to release new music by artists such as clarinetist Eddie Daniels and vocalists Audrey Logan and Polly Gibbons, Resonance’s co-president Zev Feldman has boosted the label’s profile through more than a decade of tireless detective work, tracking down previously unreleased — or never officially issued — recordings by acknowledged jazz greats.

Two of the three RSD releases for 2022 feature one of the Resonance catalog’s core assets — an ever-growing collection of archival releases by seminal jazz pianist Bill Evans. This year’s offerings, Morning Glory and Inner Spirit, document two Evans-led trios recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina six years apart.

Morning Glory, recorded in 1973 at the Teatro Gran Rex, showcases an exuberant Evans with his longest-serving trio, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morrell. These are three busy players who interact as equals and prod each other to escalating heights of inspiration, whether on the uptempo flag wavers “My Romance” and “Twelve Tone Tune”, the swinging “Up With the Lark” and “Waltz for Debby” or the pensive ballads “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” and “Esta Tarde Vi Lover”. The jazz-hungry crowd regularly goes wild (at 10 am on a Sunday morning!), which spurs the trio to push even farther — at times, Evans’ introductory chords are tumbling over each other in the rush toward the next trio statement. But this uncharacteristic excitability supplements the lyrical underpinnings of his thick chording and fine-spun melody, Gomez’s steady beat and floating solo flights, and Morrell’s inventive cross-rhythms. Every moment of adrenalin in this show is backed by thoughtful nuance and rock-solid interplay, living up to its storied reputation among Evans fanatics and fully deserving of wide release.

1979’s Inner Spirit isn’t more of the same — rather, it’s packed with vital contrasts, from Evans’ ruminative, exploratory intro for “Stella By Starlight” onward. With dazzling young bassist Marc Johnson and seasoned drummer Joe LaBarbera now on board at the Teatro General San Martin, this concert isn’t hyperactive in the way Morning Glory is; rather than fleet excitement, this trio plumbs the depths of both meditative ecstasy and centered, confident drive. Plagued by personal demons and self-inflicted health problems (he would be dead in less than a year), Evans was nonetheless intensely focused on connecting with his compatriots and his audience. New tunes in the trio’s book (originals “Laurie” and Evans’ solo showcase “Letter to Evan”, “Theme from M*A*S*H*” and Paul Simon’s “I Do It For Your Love”) slot in effortlessly beside old reliables; carryovers from the 1973 concert like “My Romance” and “Up With The Lark” (here done as an avant-garde duet with Johnson) become breathtakingly daring excursions along familiar routes, recognizable from their structure but utterly different in character. The climax comes with the closer, Miles Davis’ “Nardis”: a darkly colored, virtuoso Evans intro, a muscular trio statement, a richly melodic solo by Johnson, and a crisply delineated LaBarbera feature culminate in a searing final statement. In my ears, this may be the finest Evans effort Resonance has released; with all three players and the audience fully engaged from start to finish, it’s a gripping concert where every note counts.

Then there’s Mingus: The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott’s, a completely different thing that delves into new and rewarding territory for Resonance. Bassist and composer Charles Mingus (whose centenary is celebrated on April 22nd) was — to put it simply — one of the true greats of jazz. Inspired by founding legends Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington as well as bebop pioneer Charlie Parker (he played with all three, plus many more titans of the form), Mingus loved to toss his multi-voiced, multi-sectioned compositions into the volatile atmosphere of his various Jazz Workshop ensembles — then feed the resulting heat with his always varying, always supple pulse to match whatever was happening in the moment. Recorded at the premiere British jazz club on August 14-15, 1972 for Columbia Records (who then unceremoniously dropped Mingus, Bill Evans and all of its other jazz artists except for Miles Davis in 1973), you hear the magic that he always aimed for and so rarely achieved to his satisfaction.

This is a transitional version of the Jazz Workshop: virtuosic young trumpeter Jon Faddis, Detroit veterans saxophonist Charles McPherson and drummer Roy Brooks (who doubles on musical saw – really), plus relative unknowns Bobby Jones on saxophone and John Foster on piano are ready and eager to tackle every twist and turn of this music. New-at-the-time compositions like “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues” and “Mind Readers’ Convention in Milano (AKA Number 29)” don’t just reflect Mingus’ concentrated, oblique thought processes in their titles; they provide head-turning obstacle courses for this band to navigate by the skin of the teeth, whipsawing across five decades of jazz during their extended timespans. The thrill is how, time and again, the group triumphs not over, but through the challenges, summoning the ghosts of New Orleans counterpoint, the hot bands of the Swing Era, the great beboppers and moderns — and constantly at the heart of the matter, the blues — then taking liberties that even the freest players of the time might blanch at. (The extended ballad “The Man Who Never Sleeps” is a prime example.) All of jazz history up to that moment is, remarkably, present in this recording; Mingus and his men fuse the inside and outside of the tradition into exciting, unpredictable slabs of sound that never stop swinging, whatever transmutations they go through on the journey.

Everyone at Resonance, from George Klabin and Zev Feldman on down, deserve aficionados’ thanks for enlivening another Record Store Day with these first rate releases. Look for them at your participating RSD store — vinyl LPs are released on Saturday, April 23rd (the day after Charles Mingus’ 100th birthday), CDs the following Friday, April 29th. CDs and downloads can also be purchased at Resonance’s website or Bandcamp page.

(Want to hear more about these albums? Check out Spirit of Cecilia’s latest interview with Zev Feldman here!)

— Rick Krueger

The Spirit of Cecilia Interview: Record Store Day 2022 with “Jazz Detective” Zev Feldman

Back in 2020, I talked with archival producer Zev Feldman about his ongoing efforts to make great, officially unreleased recordings by titans of jazz available the right way — with state of the art sound, lavish documentation and full payment to musicians (or their estates) and other rights-holders. As co-president of Resonance Records and consulting producer for Elemental Music, this year Zev is responsible for five new sets he’s shepherded toward release on LP this Record Store Day, April 23rd; links to each album’s Bandcamp page (which offer CD and download pre-orders for April 29th release) are below!

It was a delight to catch up with Zev again and talk about this cornucopia of fine jazz from the vaults! Listen to our conversation below; transcribed highlights follow the jump.

Continue reading The Spirit of Cecilia Interview: Record Store Day 2022 with “Jazz Detective” Zev Feldman

In Praise of Immanuel Wilkins

Where are the great jazz saxophonists today?

The last of the giants of the 1950s and 1960s, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, have retired from live performance (though Shorter’s operatic collaboration with bassist Esperanza Spalding, Iphigenia, is just completing its debut run). The Young Lions who made their impact in the 1980s and 1980s — Branford Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, Donald Harrison, Joe Lovano and Greg Osby among them — continue to gig and record honorably, though without the boost they received from the recording industry before its post-Napster collapse. The flame kindled by Kamasi Washington’s ambitious remounting of 1970s spiritual jazz — two triple-disc sets, 2015’s The Epic and 2018’s Heaven and Earth — seems to have sputtered in the face of mass market fame, giving way to lower profile collaborations and soundtracks.

Who might carry that torch into 2022 ? I give you Immanuel Wilkins.

I gave Wilkins’ 2020 debut for Blue Note, Omega, a cursory listen when it came out, but missed the depths on display back then. Returning to it recently, I was belatedly blown away. Steeped in the music of the black church, Wilkins’ compositions offer a fresh take on spiritual jazz, leaner and more abstract; like Thelonious Monk’s best work, there’s an interior focus to his taut, angular writing. That interior emotion is unleashed via his playing; having thoroughly assimilated Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane’s vocabularies, Wilkins sends his solos spinning in freshly oblique directions. And he’s aided and abetted by his kinetic quartet (Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns on bass and Kweku Sumbry on drums) who skitter as much as they swing, astonishingly flexible and in sync with their leader, whether at their knottiest or their most romantic.

The ambition of those compositions is noteworthy as well, though not surprising if you factor in Wilkins’ mentoring by both traditionalist par excellence Wynton Marsalis and cutting-edge postmodern pianist Jason Moran. Omega’s tunes run the gamut from the painful grief of “Ferguson: An American Tradition” through the fluid lyricism of “Grace and Mercy” to the dense, richly varied ideas of a four part suite composed during Wilkins’ time at the Julliard School of Music (“The Key”, “Saudade”, “Eulogy” and “Guarded Heart”). The absolute opposite of a blowing session, Omega laid down Wilkins’ impressive jazz credentials as a writer and a player — but also could have been an extremely hard act to follow.

To my delight, Wilkins’ new album, The 7th Hand, ups the ante! First, a six-part suite bookended by seething post-bop probes and modal riffing (“Emanation” and “Lighthouse”) that explores the polyrhythms of African percussion (“Don’t Break”), gospel music (“Fugitive Ritual, Selah”), the blues (“Shadow”) and folk hymnody (“Witness”). Then “Lift”, a half-hour of committed free exploration that broods, then snaps awake and howls in catharsis before it flutters to a soft, delicate landing. The concept behind it all: does the Holy Spirit have a role in what Wilkins, his quartet and his guests (the Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble and flutist Elena PInderhughes) are creating in the moment? Given the consistent inspiration laid down here, I wouldn’t bet against it.

As always, your mileage may vary. But if you have any interest in the present and future of jazz saxophone, I strongly suggest you check out Immanuel Wilkins for yourself. Learn more about his Blue Note releases here.

— Rick Krueger

In Memory of David Longdon

Devastating news at Big Big Train’s website:

David Longdon
17th June 1965 – 20th November 2021

Big Big Train are extremely saddened to announce the death of David Longdon this afternoon in hospital in Nottingham, UK at the age of 56 following an accident in the early hours of Friday morning. He is survived by his two daughters Amelia and Eloise, his mother Vera and his partner Sarah Ewing.

Sarah Ewing comments: “David and I were best friends, partners and soul mates and I am utterly devastated by his loss. He was a beautiful person and I feel so lucky to have known and loved him.”

Greg Spawton comments: “We are absolutely stunned to lose David. It is unspeakably cruel that a quirk of fate in the early hours of yesterday morning has deprived him and his loved ones of a happy future together and all of the opportunities, both personal and musical, that awaited him next year and beyond.”

David joined Big Big Train in 2009, immediately making a significant impact with that year’s The Underfall Yard album. He proceeded to record a further eight studio albums with the band, including the forthcoming Welcome To The Planet, as well as fronting the band for a series of highly acclaimed concerts from 2015 onwards. In addition last year he released an album with the late Judy Dyble under the name Dyble Longdon. On the day before his accident he had been in the studio working on a new solo album.

“David made a huge impact on my life both musically and personally,” Spawton continues. “I loved him like a brother and already feel his loss very deeply. He was a true creative visionary with extraordinary depth of talent. But above all he was a first rate and very kind man. His family, friends, BBT bandmates and crew will miss him terribly.”

The band’s Welcome To The Planet album remains scheduled for release on 28th January 2022. A further statement regarding the band’s 2022 concerts and other activities will follow in due course.

The band and their management request privacy for David’s family and friends at this extremely difficult time.

— Rick Krueger

Giancarlo Erra’s Departure Tapes

That which passes, passes like clouds.

— aphorism/song title/album title, Robert Fripp

This is music from a broken heart.

Abruptly faced with his estranged father’s terminal illness, Nosound maestro Giancarlo Erra poured his reactions into brooding electronic improvisations, recorded (for the most part) in real time in the studio. The result is his second solo album, Departure Tapes. Shorn of the classical elements of 2019’s Ends, it’s both raw and eerily majestic — an extended sonic contemplation of mortal life’s limits and the human struggle to accept them.

The opening “Dawn Tape” lays out Erra’s improvisational process — not far removed from Robert Fripp’s Soundscapes or Floating Points’ recent Promises. A mournful lo-fi piano loop (complete with the noise of the recorder switching on) gently creaks into motion. As it repeats over the course of six minutes, Erra stirs in a static mid-range drone, a slow synth line and a recessed bass riff, randomly generated rhythmic chords and a yearning treble melody. The elements accumulate, grind against each other, gradually dissipate like clouds in a troubled sky, with the drone outlasting even the piano loop. But that’s just the architecture: what you hear is the beginning of a new day, its beauty evident yet obscured for Erra by Philip Larkin’s “unresting death, a whole day nearer now.”

Every track on Departure Tapes opens out from its simple beginnings to something rich and deep, no matter its actual length. The tender harp of the miniature “Previous Tape” provides a lush bed for its heartfelt, hornlike melody over an airy, insistent electronic groove. “169th Tape” is a portrait of collisions and avoidances, as orchestral clusters (treated with random, noisy decay) sweep across the soundfield, holding on against midrange chords and an irregular, descending bass line that threaten to overwhelm it. And “Unwound Tape” sounds like its title, a hypnotic, slow-motion crescendo that has the feel of something feared yet inescapable.

All this builds to the title track, sixteen minutes of heartfelt brilliance. Working off a long, wordless vocal loop, Erra explores his previous strategies, draping the haunting melody with chords and a bass line — then reboots for an extended, lyrical piano solo (featured at the start of the YouTube edit). Flowing from folk lyricism into free-form, dissonant splashes, Erra dances, halts, regains momentum to climb through thickening, pulsing string clouds. Which is when the vocal line returns, triumphantly soaring atop the static gloom. It’s a rhapsodic moment, evoking Mahler in its depiction of both the angst involved in confronting death and the catharsis of acceptance. Which beautifully sets up the closing “A Blues for My Father,” a yearning requiem of glacially shifting melodies and timbres, somber but nonetheless at peace.

It’s that sense of closure, of coming to terms with what awaits us all, that Erra powerfully, beautifully depicts with Departure Tapes. Working from his grief for his father, he’s given us a gift; whatever we believe awaits beyond this life, one day we will pass from this world, like the clouds he’s so vividly drawn on for these improvisational sketches. Coming to terms with that raw fact can enable us — as it would seem to have enabled Giancarlo Erra — to treasure what we have (as well as what we’ve had) all the more.

Departure Tapes is available on LP and CD/DVD from Burning Shed, or on digital download at Bandcamp. Give it a listen below:

— Rick Krueger

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, “They’re Calling Me Home”

Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi’s There Is No Other was one of my favorite albums of 2019. Reviewing it, I described it as

A sweep of traditions and times woven together . . . one of those albums that Duke Ellington might termed ‘beyond category,’ resonating with the core of our shared humanity.

Giddens and Turrisi’s breathtaking new effort They’re Calling Me Home does it again. Recorded in Ireland under lockdown conditions with limited guests, the duo spin shimmering sonic webs with viola, banjo, guitar, accordion and hand percussion, enlivening a brilliantly eclectic gamut of spirituals, folk songs, hymns, Baroque arias and striking originals.

And as always, Giddens’ incomparable voice compels your attention, tracing the commonalities of these variegated songs across the centuries — caressing Monteverdi’s “Si dolce e’l Tormento” and the Anglo-Appalachian “When I Was in My Prime,” testifying to a hope beyond reason on “I Shall Not Be Moved,” staring down mortality itself on a vehement, haunted version of “O Death:”

Separated from their extended families in North Carolina and Italy by the pandemic, Giddens and Turrisi have made, essentially, an album of laments; They’re Calling Me Home faces up to the spectres of separation (temporary and permanent) that continue to stalk our world. But strengthened by the confrontation, they — and we — come out the other side refreshed, able to rejoice in the life and love still there for us to find and cherish.

Buy They’re Calling Me Home at Nonesuch Records; listen to it below:

— Rick Krueger

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra, “Promises”

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!
Imagine if you will . . .

From silence, a seven note riff on piano, celeste and harpsichord, cycling over two repeated bass notes. Recorded so intimately you hear the piano’s damper pedals lift, as much a part of the cycle’s rhythm as the melodic tones.

About a minute and a half in, the cry of a saxophone. First responding to the keyboard cycles, then skirling continuously over them. Electric piano creeps in to fill the empty sonic crevices while the London Symphony’s strings pass above, dividing from a unison note into clustered washes. The blues are unmistakably evident from Pharaoh Sanders’ first note — and somehow the emotion he conveys is echoed in the ethereal, dissonant orchestral blanket.

The riff cycles, the sax and strings ebb; Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) steps forward with hesitant, mellow yet insistent synthesizers. Then, unexpectedly, Sanders vocalises — running scales, lip trilling, removing his horn from the equation and trusting us with his unadorned humanity, to gripping, gorgeous effect.

As he picks up the sax again, the mood and the eternal motif shift to match. Darker, thicker keys in a minor mode support grittier, more active improvisation and a stark synthesized squall by Shepherd, before subsiding to quiet counterpoint behind the unending riff.

Sanders leaps in once more — only to give way to a sustained, yearning solo cello solo that awakens the orchestra. The meditation that ensues is another moment of sheer beauty — gigantic, suspended unison lines that become a breathtaking mash-up of spiritual jazz and the English pastoral tradition, John Coltrane and Ralph Vaughan Williams locked in brotherly embrace.

The string chords pile up, mounting through consonance to dissonance — then collapse! In the ensuing silence, a quiet violin, answered by electric piano. Then, Sanders — this time so hushed, yet so gritty and breathy, over a fragile web of keyboard accents strung across the unstopping riff. A distant synth joins the dialog; Sanders cajoles it closer, helps it take more definite shape, then backs away, as Shepherd fires up free floating sequences across the stereo field and weaves a solo around them.

For the final time, Sanders breaks loose above the echoing, fading field of electronic sound, both conjuring up both the heady free jazz of his youth and the measured maturity of his long career into a memorable melodic volley. Shepherd returns to his subdued accents on synth, organ, electric piano; the riff patiently continues to cycle. Silence resumes its initial place in the piece, now dominant but not triumphant.

Until the riff stops! In its place, thick, ponderous organ chords that trail off into vibrato and echo. Total quiet; a slow-growing cloud of treated strings that burst into glittering fireworks, then subside into the final silence.

Fortunately, you don’t have to imagine this. Floating Points’ remarkable collaboration with Pharoah Sanders and the LSO is real. And moving. And my favorite album of the year to date. Listen to it below, then get it for yourself via Bandcamp.

— Rick Krueger

My Number 2 Album of the Year . . .

. . . comes from the outpouring of archival jazz releases I’ve been writing about lately. This, from my point of view, is the very best of that harvest: an astounding, life-affirming 1962 concert, buried in the archives of Ella Fitzgerald’s manager, completely forgotten until now, then released this fall as The Lost Berlin Tapes.

Back in West Berlin on the heels of two first-class live albums recorded there (1960’s Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin and 1961’s Ella Returns to Berlin) plus a solid studio record based on classic swing and bop (1962’s Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!) Fitzgerald and her virtuosic “fellas” — Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass, Stan Levey on drums — are at their absolute peak, in tune with each other and with an extroverted, enthralled Sportpalast Arena audience.

Every single note of this concert radiates warmth and inner joy, even when Ella detours into torch songs like “Cry Me A River” and Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” And when she and the fellas swing on “Jersey Bounce,” jump on “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie,” dig deep into Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Him So” (resulting in an immediate, complete encore!), they are unstoppable. And then she breaks into her trademark scat singing on “Mack the Knife,” playfully evoking Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong’s versions, “forgetting” the words like she did for real two years before and making up her own, cruising to an utterly triumphant finish. Which she can’t help but top with the powerhouse down-tempo finale “Wee Baby Blues.”

I have had no finer feeling listening to music this year; I believe that whatever might ail your soul in these strange days, The Lost Berlin Tapes is mighty good medicine for it. Which is why you need to hear this, right now!

My #1 album? The polar opposite of this, but equally beautiful in its own way – The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus’ extraordinary Songs of Yearning/Nocturnes. Get this limited edition double album (LP or CD) from Occultation Recordings on Bandcamp, before the first pressing is completely gone!

On the Hunt for Classic Jazz: A Conversation with Zev Feldman

“There’s some very special moments when you’re hearing something privileged, and that’s one of the best parts of this job, hearing things for the first time.  An exclusive, if you will! We realized right then and there, ‘there is definitely music here that should be worth releasing!'” Speaking with Resonance Records co-president and “jazz detective” Zev Feldman over the phone, the joy and passion he brings to his calling — a worldwide hunt for unreleased archival recordings by titans of the genre — is almost palpable.

The focus of this conversation? One of Feldman’s latest efforts — Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott’s, out on LP on November 27 and CD December 4 (and recently reviewed in this space). As he sat in legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette’s home studio back in 2018, hearing the multitrack recordings of Evans, bassist Eddie Gomez and DeJohnette at the iconic London club during July 1968, his reaction was, first and foremost, that of a lifelong lover of the music.

“There’s so much beauty, lessons that I’ve learned from Bill.  He really helped me learn about the beauty and sometimes subtlety and just the way the chords and different things can come out. For a piano trio, with three guys, they have so much to say, and so much to express in the way that they communicate . . . Just these guys having a conversation up there – it’s amazing.  Different chemistry, different dudes; this is something that’s definitely got some hard hitting, some nice rough edges around here in a good way.”

Inspired by the Ronnie Scott’s tapes, Feldman set out to build a package that could not only stand with Resonance’s other Evans releases (including Some Other Time and Another Time by the same, rarely-recorded trio), but would fulfill “a responsibility, in taking the opportunity to make things as great as they can be.” Beyond the details of unearthing this recording, the album booklet is packed to the gills. Reflections from Gomez and DeJohnette (the latter in conversation with pianist Chick Corea) on their time together in Evans’ trio. A view of Evans’ London residency from the audience by British jazz writer Brian Priestley, who was there and raved about it . A unique illustration by brilliant commercial artist David Stone Martin, another of Feldman’s passions. And then there’s — Chevy Chase?

“I’m not sure the mainstream public is aware of this, or even most of Bill’s fans are aware of this, but Bill and Chevy were very good friends.  Chevy used to drive him home sometimes after gigs; they kept in touch over the years; Bill even had two kittens which he gave to Chevy, which he had their whole entire lives.  And Chevy is also a musician in his own right; some people may not be aware, but he’s also been a drummer and a pianist.” In other words, Chase brings to this release what Feldman and all the other contributors do: a long-standing delight in Evans’ music, filtered through his own unique perspective.

Continue reading On the Hunt for Classic Jazz: A Conversation with Zev Feldman

Jazz Piano: A Time-Lapse Round-up

For some unknown reason, my recent listening has tacked in the direction of mainstream jazz (although there’s still plenty of avant-garde, jazz/rock fusion and prog in the rotation). If I had to speculate, I’d say I might be looking for less tension and more release during my unobligated time — and for me, jazz offers that release with a cherry on top.

But what’s on offer in the current marketplace is a factor as well. Instead of baking sourdough bread or taking up acoustic guitar during the time of COVID, it’s as if jazz musicians and aficionados have all dug deep in their closets and simultaneously unearthed long lost vintage recordings — which record companies eager to fill their distribution pipelines have snapped up and launched into the wider world. A quintet of fresh releases by five masters of jazz piano serve as both cases in point and a unique, time-lapse look at the art form, from the late 1960s to today.

Currently, California-based Resonance Records is the leading exponent of this approach; in their catalog, veteran producer George Klabin and “jazz detective” Zev Feldman have assembled an impressive swath of previously unavailable live and studio sessions by giants of the genre, ranging from Nat King Cole’s swinging piano and vocal work through Sonny Rollins’ masterful extensions of bebop saxophone to an extraordinary big-band date by trail-blazing fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius. Feldman has also spearheaded a ongoing series of releases led by Bill Evans, whose graceful, innovative approach to jazz piano shaped the beating heart of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, then influenced generations of his peers throughout a fruitful solo career. The latest in this series, Live at Ronnie Scott’s (out November 27 on LP and December 4 on CD) may be Feldman’s best find yet.

Captured during a four-week residency at the legendary London club in July 1968, Evans and his trio partners (bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, whose archive yielded the unreleased multitrack tape) are simply amazing: in tune with each other at the highest level, fearless and incisive in their approach to Evans originals, bebop classics from Miles and Thelonious Monk and the Great American Songbook. Evans’ reputation stemmed from his elevated, impressionistic lyricism, and there’s heaping helpings of that on display, but there’s also plenty of sheer rhythmic brio (often concentrated in Gomez’s resonant feature spots) and effortless, subtly thrilling swing. Liner notes that include contributions by premier British critic Brian Priestly (in attendance at the moment of creation), Gomez, DeJohnette, Chick Corea and Chevy Chase (!) provide all the context you need if you’re a neophyte in this territory. Expansive, spirited and utterly joyful, a rich blend of Evans’ veteran smarts with Gomez and DeJohnette’s youthful vigor, Live at Ronnie Scott’s really shouldn’t be missed.

Continue reading Jazz Piano: A Time-Lapse Round-up