Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows

The great jazz pianist in the Netherlands in 1973, 1975, and 1979 -- never before released.

Bill Evans

The Sesjun Radio Shows

Label: Out of the Blue
US Release Date: 2011-06-28
UK Release Date: 2011-04-18

Playing jazz on a piano means many different things. From ragtime to stride to darting bebop to atonal clusters, "jazz piano" means many things. Ellington and Garner and Tatum and Monk are as unmistakable as Wilt and Clyde and Bird and Jordan.

Among the many singular jazz pianists, Bill Evans is super-singular. His touch, his impressionist harmonies, his lyricism, and his rhythmic approach had relatively little precedent when Evans arrived on the scene in the late 1950s. And while virtually every jazz pianist since has been influenced by Evans, his own recordings remain utterly identifiable. Often copied, sure, but still one of a kind.

The Sesjun Radio Shows offers us 19 previously unreleased tracks by Evans -- five in duet with bassist Eddie Gomez, five more adding Eliot Zigmund on drums, four featuring his final trio with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbara, and five more that add harmonica great Toots Thielemans to that band.

Any concern that, as radio broadcasts, these are low fidelity recordings needs to be tossed aside. The monotone covers from this series do not indicate any cheapness on the inside. The bands are captured beautifully. The 1973 duets are crystal clear and rich, with Gomez singing beautifully in tone and Evans striking both clear and gently in his unmistakable attack. "“The Two Lonely People" is an Evans original that seems as good a summary of his art as any. Evans' piano intro is masterful, but when Gomez enters in support he seems to be playing a critical melodic role, improvising lines against the leader's that are every bit as gorgeous as the "lead" improvisation.

This version of "Some Other Time", a Leonard Bernstein tune that Evans turned into a jazz standard, is a bit quicker than most, and it demonstrates nicely how Evans' reputation for being a lugubrious player is unfair. As mournful as "Some Other Time" may be, Evans and Gomez infuse it with the tickle of dance time as they wind their lines around each other. It's thrilling and delightful to hear these partners trip lightly around such a delicate and beautiful tune.

Zigmund's role in the trio come 1975 is gentle and balanced. He plays dynamically in dialogue with the band -- no mere timekeeper. It's intriguing to hear the group have a go at "Morning Glory", a gentle pop tune written and performed by Glen Campbell and Bobby Gentry in 1968. Evans reharmonizes the song substantially, giving it an incandescence that belongs as much to Evans as to the songwriters. The group sounds even better on Mercer Ellington's "Blue Serge" -- pensive but swinging, mysterious and very free despite being utterly inside normal tonality.

The 1979 trio (recorded less than a year before Evans would die from the many complications of decades of heroin and cocaine use) sounds even more balanced and adventurous. Johnson is less busy and overtly melodic than Gomez, but his more rounded sound is a wonderful foil to Evans, and LaBarbara's drums are constantly responding to the action around them. The Evans trio that set the standard for all the others is his early group with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, but this last group seems equally capable of engaging in continual conversation in which no one player dominates. The band plays another signature Evans tune, "My Romance", at a swinging clip, giving it more contrapuntal snap than it would seem to inspire. Evans' solo unleashes all three players into what is essentially a collective improvisation. Spectacular.

The band's "Nardis" is also a masterpiece. Evans played this original composition at nearly every concert and club date, and it's wonderful to hear it played with such freedom here. The pianist's five-minute solo introduction is built on a series of rumbling left-hand fifths over which Evans spins loosely. The band swings it precisely before Johnson and LaBarbara solo with strength.

When Thielemans joins the trio, the balance is thrown back toward a more conventional jazz group, but a spectacular one. "Blue and Green" (the Kind of Blue tune that surely should have been credited entirely to Evans) swings lightly but quickly here, with the harmonica acting as a gentle lead sound. "I Do It for Your Love" is another contemporary pop tune -- this one by Paul Simon, demonstrating that Evans was all over the "new standards" idea a decade before nearly anyone else -- that takes a great advantage of the melancholy sound of the harmonica.

But the tune that suits everyone mostly pleasingly here is Thielemans' best-known number "Bluesette", which allows the trio to play in a skipping waltz time that eventually becomes hard-driving swing. It's all so breezy and breathless that it's hard to imagine that the leader was a mere nine months away from a death that was famously referred to later as "the longest suicide in history". Evans' music was so fluid and crystalline that the torture of the artist's life seems veiled if not entirely hidden. The man's touch on the piano keys was graceful and tender, driving but always logical. When you hear Bill Evans play the piano, it makes you believe that you could probably do it -- so natural and organic was the sound. "Bluesette" certainly epitomizes the Evans sense of ease.

But playing with the intelligence and skipping speed of Bill Evans is no simple feat. As many imitators as there have been, few have come close to Evans' edge-of-the-seat grace. No mere ballad player, Bill Evans infused every note with a deliberateness and sharp clarity.

On these three radio broadcasts, the full range of Bill Evans' artistry is on display. It doesn't get any better.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.