New Jazz Conceptions

Bill Evans

Fantasy Records, 1956

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Good quality music is timeless. I guess that goes without saying. After all, if it weren't true, why do we still listen to some of classical music's greats like Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin even today?

But it still amazes me, even after all this time, when I pick up an album that is 10, 20, or even 30 years old, and it sounds as fresh now as it did back then. Case in point - New Jazz Conceptions, the debut of Bill Evans as a bandleader - and a disc which is, as of this writing, 46 years old. One of the great misunderstood geniuses of jazz, Evans creates a collection of tunes here which is an excellent primer to his vast discography. (Full disclosure: I am reviewing this via MP3 - albeit legal MP3 files from EMusic.)

Maybe the reason that this particular disc enthralls me is it reminds me of the work Vince Guaraldi did with his trio. But this session even pre-dates Guaraldi - and though I admittedly don't know enough about jazz to call Evans a pioneer in this particular style of be-bop, he is one of the trailblazers who helped to shape the genre at a unique time in its history. (One noticeable difference - with all due respect to Guaraldi - is that Evans's playing is much cleaner.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Working with bassist Teddy Kotick and drummer Paul Motian, Evans gives each musician room to shine and to take their instruments into their own circles of achievement, but there is no doubt who is the star of New Jazz Conceptions. Throughout the 12 songs that make up this disc (including two versions of "No Cover, No Minimum"), Evans puts together some piano runs that, on their own, would sound dischordant, but when blended together create some of the most beautiful noise I've heard in a long time.

Evans (who died in 1980) and the remainder of the trio are able to tackle full-force breakout jazz ("Five," "I Love You," "Conception") and ballad ("No Cover, No Minimum", "Easy Living") and make all the stylistic shifts sound as effortless as walking down a hill. (I will admit to liking the first take of "No Cover, No Minimum" a little more - including what I perceived as Evans throwing in a quick lick from "Mexican Hat Dance".) The energy this trio had, combined with their sheer musicianship, made it seem like they would be a tough act to follow - though Evans (like a mentor of his, Miles Davis) would make a career of putting together some incredible groups. No surprise, then, that Davis would pick Evans to join his Sextet a little more than a year later.

The only time that the energy seems to sag a bit is on the rare occasion when Evans performs a piece solo. It's not that Evans isn't capable of handling things on his own, but tracks like "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" and "Waltz For Debby" almost scream for fleshing out with the full band. Thankfully, Evans keeps these moments (some would call them "interludes" nowadays) under two minutes, but it is enough to break up the energy the trio was outputting.

Still, this is a minor quibble, and New Jazz Conceptions remains a disc I would steer people to who want to learn about Evans as both a musician and a bandleader. The journey through Evans's discography is a long one, but this is a great first step.

Rating: B+

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© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fantasy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.