A cool disc documenting a return by Bill Evans to his alma mater less than a year before is death. Much of the appeal of the disc lies in its historical curiosity, coupled with the fact that everyone loves to fantasize about returning to their school endowed with tremendous fame and fortune.
This is no revenge gig, though according to the liner notes, Bill Evans had a fine old time at Southeastern Louisiana U. I suppose a part of me would love this to be a big ol' fuck-you to the school that drove him down, but I guess I'll have to wait for Billy Corgan's solo live album recorded at his high school. Man, it's hard to estimate the bitterness quotient inherent in that theoretical disc.
Anyway, this is more of a triumphant return for one of the most brilliant figures in 20th Century piano Evans was a titan not only in jazz, but among classical players as well. He didn't play much classical music in his career, but his gift was enormous and the level of musicianship he attained, especially in the realm of improvisation, was incredible. This disc shows, also, that the gift did not diminish. Evans was playing as well as he ever did in 1979.
The set list is a mixed bag of Evans "hits" ("Re: Person I Knew," "Turn Out the Stars," "Laurie"), standards ("I Loves You, Porgy," "Someday My Prince Will Come"), some nice lesser-known pieces ("Minha," "Midnight Mood") and a couple of left-field contemporary choices (Paul Simon's "I Do it For You," "Song From M*A*S*H").
I must admit, serious jazz fan though I am, I was most interested in hearing Evans tackle the "M*A*S*H" theme, and surprisingly it fits his style very well it sounds just like any of the standards here.
The sound is good for a live recital, though the spoken bits in between songs are hard to decipher overall the feel is like sitting near the back of the auditorium: the music is accessible but you have to strain to hear Bill speak.
The performances are very good perhaps not as exploratory and searching as some of his classic albums, but it is a live show, so how much transcendent brilliance are you really expecting? The trio of Evans, Marc Johnson on bass, and Joe LaBarbera on drums is not the best group Evans ever played with, but that's not surprising considering the caliber of performer Evans routinely played with in the 50s and 60s.
Still, in 1979, you'd have been better off seeing a group like this than, say, Evans with '79 Miles Davis. I wouldn't call the interplay "telepathic," but the support is solid and really, Evans is the star of the show.
Most of the songs take a typically thoughtful mid-tempo approach, with Evans' very pretty tone and pensive touch characterizing each tune. He takes a couple of unaccompanied songs as well, emphasizing the piano-focus of the concert.
The disc closes with a very interesting six-minute interview with Bill Evans, which is a gift for anyone who even considers themselves a casual fan of the man. He has some great things to say about his career, including a nice bit about Kind of Blue, and some nice things to say about Mrs. McGee, too. It's cool to hear a jazz icon talk about himself in any capacity, even if the focus is his school experience.
Hopefully, Billy Corgan will have a similar interview tacked on to his Homecoming album no, scratch, that, he'd have to tack on a whole other disc just to contain his endless ranting against all the "prick rich kids" and "Nazi fucks" he went to high school with. Wait, was I talking about Billy Corgan or myself there? The line has gotten so blurry.
Review by Sweaty Prince