May 2022 Jazz Record Reviews

Bill Evans: Inner Spirit
Bill Evans, piano; Marc Johnson, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums
Resonance HCD-2062 (2 CDs, available as download, LPs). 1979/2022. Zev Feldman, prod.; Carlos Melero, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ***½

Bill Evans's discography is already gigantic, yet new titles keep coming. The Resonance label alone has put out seven albums of previously unreleased Evans music in the last 10 years. (Resonance does it with class. The documentation and sound restoration for Inner Spirit are exemplary.)

Evans fans are a cult. For them, he is personal. The great jazz writer Gene Lees once said this about the first time he heard a Bill Evans album: "Until then, I had assumed, albeit unconsciously, that I alone had the feelings therein expressed."

Inner Spirit is a two-CD set—it is also available on LP—containing a concert in Buenos Aires on September 27, 1979, by Evans's last trio, with Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. Evans was a genius at music and a disaster at life. In 1979, he was 50 and would be dead in a year. The heartbreaking photos in the CD booklet show how drug abuse had ravaged him. Yet, in Buenos Aires, he plays with astonishing boldness and strength.

Creativity is a mystery and a miracle. "Nardis" begins with a vast, eight-minute solo piano prolog. When Johnson and LaBarbera finally enter, the adrenalin rush jolts Evans aloft. He plays songs that were staples of his repertoire, like "I Loves You, Porgy" and "Someday My Prince Will Come," but embeds them in new, expansive, free-flowing content. The energy level of the evening is extraordinary, but there are moments when he creates that rapt hush he was famous for. Paul Simon's "I Do It for Your Love" and Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," with their mesmerizing key modulations and chord voicings, freeze you right in your chair. "Letter to Evan," for the four-year-old son he knows he will soon leave behind, is sorrow and tenderness become music.

There will never be enough Bill Evans albums.—Thomas Conrad


Sebastian Noelle: System One
Noelle, electric and acoustic guitars; Matt Mitchell, piano; Chris Tordini, bass; Dan Weiss, drums
Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 627 (CD, available as download). 2021. Sebastian Noelle, prod.; Chris Benham, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Sebastian Noelle can be placed in several current jazz categories: new generation guitarists; New York players who came from elsewhere (in this case Germany); nonthreatening avant-garde artists. But System One, like all significant records, is in its own category.

Noelle sometimes makes you think of Bill Frisell. Like Frisell, his tone is pure and centered but his thinking is not. Often, his ideas are deceptively simple but then veer into strange, dark corners. (The album has an epigraph from J.R.R. Tolkien: "Not all those who wander are lost.")

System One is not a guitar album. It is an exploration of ensemble form in which Noelle the guitarist is one of four voices exploring the concepts of Noelle the composer. The others (Matt Mitchell, Chris Tordini, Dan Weiss) are especially qualified to operate in the wide landscape of Noelle's singular, disciplined aesthetic. The fifth track, "Cathedral of Junk," is named for an art installation in Austin, Texas, that is pictured inside the CD cover. It is a massive sculpture created from cultural detritus. Noelle says that, like the sculpture, the tune was created with "different pieces from here and there, ... a lot of little details." All Noelle's songs contain "little details" that at first seem randomly juxtaposed. By the time you perceive the order, Noelle and Mitchell have skittered sideways and made a new order.

In Noelle's architectural music, carefully assembled building blocks are eventually fulfilled as melodies. His tunes are paths to hard-won lyricism. The prettiest is "Winter Boat." Its rising and falling line of acoustic guitar notes is taken over by the other three players in turn. Four badasses find themselves performing an incantation, gentle as a lullaby.—Thomas Conrad

Allen Fant's picture

The Bill Evans set is a must-own in any format.
Great review- TC.