John Lewis

Evolution II

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On May 3, 2000, John Lewis turned 80 -- and almost half a century after the formation of the Modern Jazz Quartet, he could still inspire a variety of reactions. Over the years, Lewis' detractors have insisted that his piano playing is too polite and overly mannered; his admirers, however, have exalted him as the epitome of class and sophistication. To be sure, Lewis' pianism is quite sophisticated, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't swing or that he isn't soulful. Recorded in 2000 and released in early 2001, Evolution II isn't going to convert anyone who isn't already an admirer of the pianist's cool jazz/third stream approach. Anyone who has claimed that Lewis' playing is too polite won't have a change of heart after hearing this CD, but for Lewis' admirers, the rewards are great. Evolution II is the second installment of his Evolution trilogy; while the first Evolution was an unaccompanied solo piano recording, Evolution II finds him leading quartets that include Howard Alden or Howard Collins on guitar, George Mraz or Marc Johnson on upright bass, and Lewis Nash on drums. Except for the standards "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "What Is This Thing Called Love?," all of the songs are Lewis originals (including new compositions as well as familiar pieces like "Django" and "Trieste"). True to form, Lewis is elegant and swinging at the same time -- contrary to what his detractors have claimed, Lewis swings, but he does so on his own terms. For Lewis, there is no reason why jazz cannot be classical-influenced yet maintain the feelings of the blues. Although Evolution II falls short of essential, it is an enjoyable addition to the veteran pianist's catalog and demonstrates that his chops have held up well over the years.

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