Jazz: The Solo Sessions, Vol. 2
All The Things You Are · Bill Evans (piano)
The CD’s booklet liner notes written by Gene Lees tell as much — if not more — of the story about the circumstances of this session as the music itself. Though in retrospect, Lees hears added value in these solo piano works from Bill Evans, there is a palpable and recognizable deterioration in the great pianist’s ability to perform at his optimal genius level. In trouble with heroin addiction during 1963 when these tracks were documented, Evans both struggles and prevails through his drug-induced haze to produce an effort that is at many times expectedly brilliant — the prerequisite and operative word being effort.
Where Evans was normally fluid and cool to the point of nonchalance, here he is as much poignant and inventive as he is distracted and removed at times from the melodies. Since this endeavor is his first as a solo pianist, and the second issued volume of these sessions minus outtakes, perhaps Evans was more uncomfortable without rhythm mates and not as confident.
The story told by Lees, with his undeniable support for Evans and frank honestly about his plight, needs to be read and understood. It is Evans as an incredible player — albeit diminished on any minimal or distinguishable level — that deserves close attention to appreciate both his beauty and pain. During “Love Is Here to Stay,” Evans is clearly having difficulty, yet he rallies out of an unsure thought to carry this theme onward. On “What Kind of Fool Am I?” (misidentified by Lees in the liner notes as “Who Can I Turn To?”), the pianist recalls a pensive and introspective, almost gut-wrenching mood, perhaps a self-examination of his condition.
The better reinterpretations include a wonderfully spacious version of “All the Things You Are,” a playful medley of “Autumn in New York” and “How About You?,” and the lively jazzed-up “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” The tricky Charlie Parker bop anthem “Ornithology” has the pianist rambling off the beaten path in a carefree but a rough dissertation. Apparently Evans did not care for these recordings, but listeners have two CD editions to enjoy, and despite his lessened capacity, they are still enjoyable in their flawed but brilliant way. After all, this is the great Bill Evans, and he remains so for all time.