The 1970s were not a particularly happy decade for Bill Evans.
The pianist had long since cemented his place in the jazz history books, not least for his appearance on Miles Davis’ seminal Kind of Blue – for many, the greatest jazz album of them all – in addition to the fresh, conversational approach to the piano trio that he pioneered in the early 1960s.
But his personal life was tumultuous, as he suffered the brutal loss of some of those closest to him and endured an ongoing struggle with drug addiction.
Against this dark backdrop, Evans made one of the great recorded statements to emerge from the later part of his storied career.
You Must Believe in Spring
Taped in 1977 and initially released three years later, You Must Believe in Spring sees him accompanied by double bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Elliot Zigmund.
By that point the trio had been a busy working unit for around two years (Evans had been playing with Gomez since the mid-1960s, in fact), and co-producer Tommy LiPuma proudly noted in a 2016 interview that he had captured them on top form:
“By pure chance, I caught that trio at the right time. They were locked in and it was perfection.”
Los Angeles-based Craft Recordings have now re-released the album as a two-LP set on 180 gram vinyl, with new liner notes by jazz historian and journalist Marc Myers, of renowned blog JazzWax. It has also been remastered for CD, SACD and high-res digital versions of the release.
As you’d expect, the music is highly introspective, and the three musicians are engaged in constant interactive musical conversation.
The Michel Legrand-penned title track crescendos through Evans’ solo following an embellished statement of the melody from Gomez, while “The Peacocks”, a beautiful ballad by the pianist Jimmy Rowles, is another highlight.
Johnny Mandel’s “Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless)” was included on DiPuma’s suggestion and would be come a staple of Evans’ live sets until his sad and untimely death in 1980, months prior to the release of this record.
The programme also includes two original compositions by Evans, both of them personal dedications tinged with real sadness.
“B Minor Waltz (for Ellaine)” was written for his long term partner, Ellaine Schultz, while the touching “We Will Meet Again (for Harry)” is for his brother who, like Ellaine, died by suicide (although I wonder if the latter was titled later, given that Harry did not die until 1979, two years after the recording session).
The digital, SACD and CD versions of this new issue also come with three bonus tracks that were not included on the original release, although they did appear on a 2003 CD reissue.
The standard “Without A Song” is given a slightly surprising, almost funky reading – there’s a light backbeat on the snare drum from Zigmund – and the drummer is on particularly fiery form on Cole Porter’s “All of You”, following a typically lovely solo introduction from Evans.
Gomez’s solo turn is, as always, virtuosic, largely remaining high in the register. The interpretation of “Freddie Freeloader” is an interesting one: the blues is the sole track on Kind of Blue on which Evans did not feature.
To my mind, the rendition here is not one of the stronger tracks on You Must Believe in Spring, suffering as it does from the inevitable comparisons to the ultra-swinging original.
This would be the final studio recording of this trio. Evans, a notoriously self-critical perfectionist, was apparently more than satisfied with the results.
Although the music here has all been publicly available for some time, Craft Recordings’ deluxe new packaging of this lovely album will be of interest to Evans completists and vinyl enthusiasts, and serves as an ideal introduction to his late period for those less familiar with the great pianist’s discography.
Discover more and order via craftrecordings.com/collections/bill-evans
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Sam Braysher is an alto saxophonist based in London. His debut album was a critically acclaimed duo recording with New York pianist Michael Kanan. A new trio album, with bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Jorge Rossy, is due for release soon.