Monday, July 4, 2011

Shelly Manne, Bill Evans & July 4th

Right now I'm listening to "Empathy" by Shelly Manne/Bill Evans - a July 4th tradition of mine. One year I got wise to pre-planning my holiday, before my road was blocked off by the parade. I went out early to The Wall and picked up the Verve two-fer with "A Simple Matter of Conviction", and got something sweet and awful to drink like pineapple soda.

Right from the playful, funky tri-tones that open up the cd on "The Washington Twist" it became an instant favorite. There truly is an instant and impish 'empathy' on what was basically an impromptu session; taking Evans out of his new 2nd trio for a day of fun. His solo turn on "Danny Boy" is plush and dreamy, Manne's odd and jaunty solo on "Twist" is very memorable, "With a Song in My Heart" gets a nice long drive, topped off by a humorous, lounge-meets-faux-avant-garde ending of exchanges between drummer and pianist.

I hadn't much previous exposure to Evans. (I played a solo transcription of "Peri's Scope" in my senior year at high school for an all-state jazz competition, and afterwards gave a run-through to some of the other oddly-titled originals in the book.) Gordon Jenkins "Goodbye" hit me with a wallop - the bed of poignant emotion the whole track lies in while still swinging amazed me. The 1st album's closer "I Believe in You" also struck me - I loved it's construction - or Evan's deconstruction, the way it seemed to avoid a tonal center, and Evan's obvious joyous freedom throughout.

The 2nd album - "A Simple Matter of Conviction" is also fine - recorded about 4 years later in '66 with a new trio. It was Eddie Gomez's first album with Evans - and there's definitely a nervous energy that collects as you listen. Nonetheless - the titles are all great and swing like crazy - the only song where the tension is unbearable is the opening title track; Evans' left hand is just relentless, an obvious sign of nerves. Not to be missed are his takes on "I'm Gettin' Sentimental Over You", "Melancholy Baby" and "Laura".

The thing that strikes me today, listening 49 years after "Empathy" was made - is it's relevance. If I were to go to a club and hear these performances today, it would feel completely 'right' and current. Evans' biographer Peter Pettinger complains about Rudy van Gelder's dry piano sound, but for me it makes the album; giving it a very personal, intimate touch. Evans at his most jovial! - KM

The back case of my copy - notice the "lifetime guarantee" sticker from The Wall. Every cd came with one, you were to affix it to the case somewhere. That makes 2 of us who, at the time, had no idea the concept of the music store would become antiquated. :)

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