Bill Evans

Very Early, Vol.1: 1943-1949

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It isn't surprising that a number of posthumous releases featuring the legendary pianist Bill Evans have appeared since his premature death at 51 in 1980, but of particular interest are the series of privately made recordings featuring Evans prior to his becoming a professional recording artist. Even with the noise and frequent attempts at comic narration by one of the other band members on "The Way You Look Tonight," there are enjoyable moments. Of course, during a blindfold test it would be tough for anyone to identify Evans' playing during many of these early recordings, as his style wasn't fully formed in the 1940s. His approach to "C-Jam Blues" is in a boogie-woogie vein, while "The Man I Love" receives a brisk loping treatment. The swinging track labeled "To Harry From Family - Improvising" is clearly based on the chord changes to "Just You, Just Me." Evans made relatively few commercial recordings with singers (which included Tony Bennett, Lucy Reed, and Monica Zetterlund), so it is fun to hear him with vocalists on this CD. Dottie Drews' vocals aren't as memorable as the backing she receives, but she isn't a bad singer. Art Hammond performs a rather obscure original by Evans, "It's Love, It's Christmas," which is played as a waltz with a rather straight-laced vocal. Of greatest interest to Evans' fans are the solo piano tracks: an imaginative, well-developed medley of "Body and Soul" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"; an intriguing rehearsal of "Toccata" by Khatchaturian, one of the rare opportunities to hear the pianist playing classical music (which he studied along with flute at Southeastern Louisiana College); and a pretty ballad medley centered around "Moonlight in Vermont." The vintage photographs of Bill Evans in his teens and the warm remembrances of bassist Connie Atkinson (who appears on several tracks) within the liner notes will add to the appeal that this unusual release will have for fans of Bill Evans.

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