Jazz CD Reviews
Bill Evans Trio – Turn Out the Stars – The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980 – Nonesuch (6 CDs)
Published on June 23, 2009
Bill Evans Trio – Turn Out the Stars – The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980 – Nonesuch 518043-2 – (6 CDs) CD 1: 69:17, CD 2: 62:47, CD 3: 70:23, CD 4: 68:50, CD 5: 63:51, CD 6: 62:58 *****1/2:
(Bill Evans, piano; Marc Johnson, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums)
Recorded just three months before his death, with his final trio at the Village Vanguard, the six CDs that make up Turn Out the Stars remained unreleased for 15 years until Warner Bros put out a box set in 1995. That set was released in limited production. We can be thankful that Nonesuch Records has just put out this magnificent music in its entirety again.
There has been no remastering of the four nights output in the Nonesuch edition-likely because none is needed. After all, the Vanguard sessions were supervised by Helen Keane, Evans’ long time manager and producer. In the summer of 1980, Evans worked with Malcolm Addey, who had recorded the trio’s efforts, and the two of them remixed and mastered the tracks. Sadly, Evans passed away at age 51 on Sept 15, 1980. He had been ill for quite awhile and it is a testament to his work ethic that the music on Turn Out the Stars shows no weakness, nor diminishment of Evans’ talents. In fact, there is a resurgence and excitement in Bill’s piano playing. His new trio excited him, and comparisons had been made between Johnson and LaBarbera to his legendary 1961 trio of Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, as the communication between band members in the 1980 trio approached that of LaFaro and Motian. The ’61 trio also recorded extensively at New York’s Village Vanguard, the venue that can boast the most live recordings of Evans – especially with the release on Milestone Records of The Secret Sessions, that covered the 1966 to 1975 Village Vanguard time period.
What is remarkable about the music on Turn Out the Stars is that Evans was not a fan of rehearsals and the extensive liner notes provided with this box set indicate that the 1980 trio had only one rehearsal and that it went badly. Evans would work out his head arrangements with his band on the bandstand and he had two- to four-week engagements to work out the kinks and develop the bonding that his trios found.
The trio’s songbook here was based around 15-25 classic Evans staples. Classics like Nardis, Emily, My Foolish Heart, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, My Romance, Bill’s hit tunes are covered over and over again, yet the interpretations, solos, and simpatico between the trio remained fresh. Nardis was reinterpreted on almost every set, yet there are moods and moments of new discovery found each time. It is like friends opening up new discussions about cherished topics, or rabbis arguing over sections of the Talmud, and coming out with new insights.
Bill Evans is easily among the top five jazz pianists ever. He was not bombastic nor a showman. What he brought to jazz piano playing was that of an artist, deep in concentration, hunched over just inches from the keyboard, pouring out his heart and soul in a quiet reflective way and taking us on his journeys. We were welcome guests, caught up in rapt attention, letting our hearts and souls be opened, with the knowledge that we were in the room with a genius, whether we were actually there in person or just in spirit, listening now nearly 30 years later. There will not likely be another Bill Evans in our lifetime. We are blessed to have had his music in concentrated form to transform us even for a brief time in the scheme of our life’s challenges. Bill Evans brings us beauty and a feeling of deep peace in a world that needs more beauty to balance out the chaos we face on a daily basis. All music fans of whatever persuasion should have at least one Bill Evans Trio box set to treasure like a fine wine or a precious keepsake.
– Jeff Krow