Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jazz Guitar, Bill Evans, Al Dimeola, and Memory

Back when I was a college student I tried to learn to play the guitar. I tried, I really did. I failed. I wanted to play jazz. But the desire did guide my jazz collecting. I bought Guitar Player magazine, and just when I purchased my first decent stereo system GP had a review of a number of jazz guitar releases by Verve. I only remember two of them now: one by Tal Farlow, and another by Bill Evans and Jim Hall. I loved the Farlow album, and I am going to have to find it again. But the Evans/Hall album was something on a higher shelf.

Bill Evans left behind a magnificent body of work. I continue to think that he is the greatest genius on the keyboard in the history of modern jazz. Most of his work is contained on three box sets: The Complete Bill Evans on Riverside, the Complete Bill Evans on Verve, and the Complete Fantasy Recordings. I now have the latter two, and I am waiting on the third. Evans was better than anyone else at taking a basic melody and squeezing out every last drop of honey. You don't want to listen to Evans unless you are prepared to be confronted with the unvarnished muscle of his and your own heart. It doesn't matter what you are doing when you put this music on: all the pretension gets stripped away and you are left with the simple fact of what your heart desired and what it did or didn't get.

Most of Evans recordings are piano trios. His famous Village Vanguard Recordings are his magnum opus, with the beautiful Scott LaFaro on bass. LaFaro died ten days after that famous date, and I don't think Evans ever got over it. Sorry, I got off track. Evans and Jim Hall did this duet that is very different from the trio format. Hall and Evans play together with some much consonance that it almost like the left and right hand on the piano. It is arresting in its beauty.

Here is a sample from the Complete Verve:
Bill Evans and Jim Hall/I've Got You Under My Skin/Intermodulation
And here is another, even more breathtaking:
Bill Evans and Jim Hall/My Man's Gone Now/Intermodulation
And here, just for something completely different, is a cut from another guitar album that I worshiped back in the day. Al DiMeola is a fusion virtuoso, and this album kept me going through many a dark time. It is a spy movie soundtrack in search of a movie, and I like spy movies. Elegant Gypsy might be my favorite fusion album. It is a good contrast with the moody introspection of Evans' music. Prepare to soar.
Al DiMeola/Flight Over Rio/Elegant Gypsy
Have fun, buy the discs, and post a comment.


  1. I've been meaning for a while to comment on how much I enjoy your blog, the writing and the music you introduce me to.

    Recently my computer had some issues and while it was in the shop I was using a borrowed laptop. One of the first things I did on getting my system back was come to your blog, read through the posts and just enjoy the music. Thanks for the work you do, it's really appreciated by me.

  2. Thank you very much Will. If I can keep a few more jazz fans listening, that is work well done.

  3. Will: just another note of gratitude. I have been rereading your comment since you posted it. It really makes me feel like this blog is worth it. I especially liked your laptop story. In my case, that is the test: what do I go to first when I have been away from the internet for a while.

    Thanks again, and please post a comment from time to time. It is all the compensation I need for this work.