If there’s one thing worth noting on reviewing reissues of period jazz recordings (not previously heard) from the masters during the proverbial renaissance, it’s how satisfying it is to know beforehand you’re going to hear something that’s hailed enough to warrant a reissue in the first place. This is assumptive, of course, but at the same time highly probable. Let the record show that since classic jazz reissue reviews started coming my way, I haven’t been disappointed yet. There’s also the added benefit of having the future history along with the past to provide context within the artist’s timeline. The year 1962 would be a good year for Bill Evans artistically, and his return to the art started with this album (as well as another, we’ll get to that shortly).
This time around, the Bill Evans Trio consisted of Evans, Paul Motian on drums, and Chuck Israels on bass. From these first sessions together, you get a record that sounds like Bill Evans, indeed, but as I listen this feeling of Evans in autopilot I can’t steer away from. His flourishes are always astounding, but some throughout the record have an exercising feel to them, just going through the motions. Maybe it has to do with the standard-heavy track lineup (“Summertime”, “I Should Care”, and “In Your Own Sweet Way” all make an appearance here), and the fact that every cut here varies lightly within the same tempo range. Besides the ‘standard’ fare, the original compositions here are quite fun. “Walking Up” is a big highlight, and a fine moment from Bill Evans, the writer. If I weren’t already familiar with most of these compositions, it would be hard to distinguish one track from the next. Granted, when working in a piano trio setting, the sparseness of the instrumentation leans itself to the background by default , but this is Bill Evans. The way he intertwined his chords alone is attention-getting and absolutely worthy of doctoral dissertation.
History has a lot to say about Bill Evans in ‘62, the year of How My Heart Sings! It was only a few months after the sudden passing of bassist Scott LaFaro, which led to a self-imposed exile and another year of heavy heroin use for him. It’s no secret Evans had a real love for the stuff, but what’s hard to put a finger on is was Evans piloting the heroin, or was it flying him? When you run across an album like How My Heart Sings! (which should be accompanied with Moonbeams, recorded at the same sessions), one can’t help but to ponder such speculation. From everything we know about Bill Evans the man, it’s a little of both. During this time of recovery from the tragedy of LaFaro’s fatal car accident, you can’t really blame him for disconnecting a little. Death changes people, for better or worse.
The last thing I want to do here is come across like this record isn’t worthy of your attention. The torch songs not represented on this release isn’t necessarily a detriment, just a matter of personal preference. It’s got everything one would need in a piano trio record, unless you’re a fan of Evans’ ballads. You’ll find no “Peace Piece” here, only mid-to-fast tempo numbers. All of the ballads recorded during these sessions were released on Moonbeams, which in turn is all slow and low. How My Heart Sings! has the comfort of familiarity with the spontaneity in solos that’s all Evans. Think Vince Guaraldi without the need to lean on major chords and boastful octaving. Although, be prepared for little space between phrases. Still, this is very accessible to the enthusiast who’s just looking for a non-invasive Sunday-morning record to accentuate drinking coffee and folding clothes. I look for those types of recordings all of the time, particularly when knocking out the weekend chore list. So, the lack in tempo dynamics could be a good thing, especially if have no desire to slow your roll while listening.