August 27, 2010

Bill Evans in Oslo

Bill Evans Trio: The Oslo ConcertsBill Evans Trio: The Oslo Concerts (2006) presents two Bill Evans dates, one filmed at the Oslo Munch Museum in 1966 and the other at the Molde Jazz Festival in 1980. Evans is one of the least dynamic of performers, so filming him playing is almost a waste of film. But the music is a different matter.
     On the 1966 date, we see the younger, nerdy Evans: slicked-back hair, clean cut, glasses with black plastic frames. He plays with his head drooping to the right or with his whole body hunched over the keyboard, almost to the point of making you wonder if he doesn’t have a long-term vitamin deficiency. (He did have drug problems from the late 1950s onward.) He barely acknowledges the audience. But the music displays all the magical, impressionistic lyricism - an almost liquid quality to his playing - that one has come to associate with Evans. Among the highlights are versions of “Stella By Starlight” and “Autumn Leaves.” The interplay among the trio (Eddie Gomez on bass and Alex Riel on drums) seems to be accomplished by mind-reading.
     By the 1980 date, Evans’s diet seems to have improved, and his posture when addressing the piano is merely kyphotic. But like the Beatles did earlier, he has transformed from clean cut to scruffy, now sporting longer, Bee Gees hair and a beard. Here, there is a sense of more warmth and connection with the audience, and this version of the trio (Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums) also displays some wonderful interplay. Highlights of this date include “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Nardis.” This was one of Evans’s last dates, because he died in September of that year - from complications due to chronic drug use - at the age of 51.
     While I can’t say much for the visual impact of a Bill Evans concert, the music is absolutely top-notch and not to be missed.

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