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