I love the piano. Keyboards, actually, have been my instrument of choice both as a listener and occasional, untrained songwriter since I was a teenager. What a Jimmy Page hairy-chested guitar riff was to many guys, an offhand Tears For Fears keyboard solo was to me, and since then my interest has grown to encompass the jagged glaciers of beauty of a Thelonious Monk and the warm ripples of a Horace Silver. Keyboards, and in specific the piano, just seem to me to have a deeper grounding, at least in terms of my soul, than do other instruments. A good piano piece can affirm feelings and thoughts that I didn’t even know I had in my head.
All this is in aid of trying to explain that my mind was quite open to thoroughly enjoy Kenny Drew, Jr’s solo piano tribute to the late Bill Evans, and I’m not entirely sure why I did not. Although there is nothing wrong with any of the pieces on This One’s For Bill technically, they sound breathless to my ears, rushed through. There are many remarkable moments where I wish Drew would have lingered longer. Too many of the songs just seem to tinkle on non-intrusively for a while and then stop. He isn’t marking time—his passion for the work of Evans is no-doubt genuine, but he has not succeeded here in passing on that passion to a new listener. Too much of the music is majestic, stately, where a little less dignity and a lot more soul would have made it appreciably easier to be moved rather than just impressed.
The songs are a mix of Evans’ compositions, other works favored by him during his life, and Drew’s own tribute piece, “This One’s For Bill.” Of them all, the album-closing “Nardis,” by Miles Davis, is the most satisfying, as notes fall with precision and seem to vibrate with barely held in check life. It’s a mugs game to try to guess the exact feelings of the artist from their art, but Drew certainly seems to be cutting loose a bit more here; the piece alternately descends and climbs in ways that are quite exciting. Drew’s command of his instrument is never in doubt, although someone should have stopped Bret Primack from writing, in the liner notes, that “he plays the piano with the prowess of a Greek god.” Such overblown praise, even earned, is just asking for trouble, especially when attached to an album such as this which is pleasant, but by no means essential.