Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Conversations with Bill Evans

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This was an inevitable record, the absorption of Bill Evans into the classical music world by having a concert pianist play his music. After all, the classical piano streams of Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninoff, among others, do lead straight into Evans' introspective side. The only problem, perhaps, was in finding a major classical pianist who is open-minded and courageous enough to take this music on -- and they found one in Jean-Yves Thibaudet, a young virtuoso from Lyons, France who also happens to be Decca/London's most heavily promoted pianist of the '90s. What happens here, though, is the antithesis of jazz, where the notes from spontaneous improvisations are canonized as the Holy Word, not to be tampered with. Reading from carefully selected transcriptions of Evans' solos, Thibaudet applies all of the tools in a classical pianist's arsenal -- the expressive tempo fluctuations, carefully terraced dynamics, a lovely, singing, rounded tone, subtle pedaling -- and produces broad, seductively rhapsodic interpretations that could comfortably cap off an enlightened classical recital. "Peace Piece," tin particular, could almost be mistaken for a long-lost Satie Gymnopedie. What Thibaudet misses, though, is true jazz feeling; when he tries to kick it in, as in the middle of "Here's That Rainy Day," the syncopation sounds boxy and unnatural. He is, however, adventurous -- or perhaps literal -- enough to follow Evans' example and overdub reductions of Evans' added piano parts to "Love Theme From 'Spartacus'" and "Song for Helen." This is an undeniably beautiful record, one that may contribute to Evans' credibility in classical circles, but one must turn to Evans' own recordings for the authentic sound and feeling.

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