Saturday, December 13, 2008

Best Jazz Compositions 2: Blue in Green

'Blue in Green', written by Bill Evans, gets a lot less attention than 'Round Midnight', but surely deserves as much. For shear lyrical beauty, I am not sure it can be bested. And I like it for the same reason as I like Monk's great standard. Despite it's origins in the "modal jazz" experiment of Miles Davis, there is nothing the least bit abstract about 'Blue in Green.' To play either of them is to conjure up the broken heart that never mends walking down the street that is always dark. But whereas 'RM' seems to be weaving a narrative, 'Blue in Green' is much more impressionistic. Even the title suggests as much. It is the palate of emotional colors rather than the details and forms that is primary.

Evans composed the piece for Miles, and it made its debut on Kind of Blue. I doubt that version can be bested. Here is how NPR tells the story:

Davis was at a musical peak in the 1950s and had been preparing the ideas that would become Kind of Blue for years. A year before the recording, Davis slipped Evans a piece of paper on which he'd written with the musical symbols for "G minor" and "A augmented."

"See what you can do with this," Davis said. Evans went on to create a cycle of chords as a meditative framework for solos on "Blue in Green."

I don't know enough about music to appreciate the specifics, but the story is part and parcel of the song when I listen. Here is a version recorded by Evans and his astonishing trio: Scott LaFaro on bass, and Paul Motian on drums. The album is Portrait in Jazz.

It adds something to the hearing of this particular interpretation that Scott LaFaro died in an a car accident less than two years after recording this album. More significantly, his death came ten days after the Village Vanguard sessions that stand as Bill Evans' magnum opus. Jazz is rarely happy music. A lot of musical genres help us to see the beauty in the tragic side of human life. I think jazz maps out the geography of sadness with more detail and depth than any other music.

If you want a superb Christmas mixer disc, 'Round Midnight', followed by 'Blue in Green', is a very good start.

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