Continuing with my month-long celebration of the first full month of spring, I decided to spotlight one of the most influential jazz pianists of all time, the late and very great Bill Evans. His version of “I’ll Remember April” comes from an old yet new album, recorded in 1968 but released on Record Store Day 2016. It was a ‘lost session’, recorded in the legendary MPS Records studios by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer (HGBS) in June of 1968 and then never released in any format, all but forgotten by all save the family of HGBS. Thankfully, the good folks at Resonance Records tracked down the tapes of the album and released it on both CD and on limited edition vinyl.
UPDATED 26 April, 2017: Unfortunately, Resonance Records didn’t approve of my YouTube upload of a song from my record and had it taken down. I’m sure if they had only read my blog, they would have been ok with it. Oh well. More of an incentive to track down a copy for yourself; even the CD or digital download would be better than nothing!
Recorded 20 June, 1968 in MPS Studios, Villingen, Germany
- Bill Evans: Piano
- Eddie Gomez: Bass
- Jack DeJohnette: Drums
Fresh from their phenomenal performance at the 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival (they would win a Grammy the next year for the album recorded at the event), the group entered the MPS Studios five days later to record the music that makes up this album. All the music recorded that day in the studio was and is consistently stimulating and delicious. This is a beautiful two-record album, as the producers decided to include all the recorded material produced during the recording session, including an incomplete take of a song. The first disc consists of the tracks originally slated for release back in 1968.
On the track above, DeJohnette sits out, providing an intimate setting for Evans and Gomez to explore. And explore they do. The tune starts in an upbeat 3/4, then shifts to 4/4 for the bridge, only to revert back to a waltz for the verse. The solos seem to shift between the two time signatures, providing some engaging interplay between the two instruments. According to the liner notes, Bill Evans was entering a phase in his piano playing where he began to play with a more percussive edge, which seems to be accurate based on this and other tracks. I’m not sure how it compares to his earlier work however, as I am just a casual Bill Evans fan and don’t listen to his music regularly enough to detect wholesale differences in his piano technique. His playing here swinging, tasty, and distinctively Bill. This is another unique rendition of this standard, and the only studio version of this tune Evans ever recorded, the one other version being a live bootleg recording from 1966 taken from the Village Vanguard in New York City. This whole album is a good listen and a rare document of Evans’ band at this time. It’s always exciting to get previously unreleased music from Bill Evans; a beautifully-recorded studio album? Miracles truly do happen.
College Jazz Collector Rating: A-
Disclaimer: The grade above is based not only on the cover, but gatefold inside as well. The album is a gatefold, with beautiful pictures inside the flaps and a separate insert of liner notes, which altogether earns a letter grade of ‘A-‘. The shot of Bill Evans on the cover is nice, as most shots of Evans were during this period. He always seemed to have a hip (or melancholy) vibe about him in just about all his photographs throughout the 1960’s, and this cover shot is a continuation of this. It almost looks like he’s wearing sunglasses indoors. Hipster alert. The lettering arrangement and coloring is visually interesting as well. Interestingly, many vintage jazz album covers had parts of the title and even the musician’s names in lowercase lettering. Modern album covers seem to capitalize everything or most of the lettering. I chalk it up to the tastes of the moment. It seemed hip and edgy in the middle of the 20th century. Now, the title is capitalized because that’s just what you do.
When you open the album, you’re greeted with rare pictures of the Bill Evans Trio from the actual record date on the left and a pretty neat shot of what I assume is the Black Forest of Germany on the right side.
The four-page double-sided liner note insert is a nice bonus, filled with information and recent interviews by Eddie and Jack! The liner note insert is the same size as the album jacket, so it’s easy to read.
Apparently almost all of these pictures are rare, including this one of the trio, taken during the Montreux Jazz Festival. This album was one of the many Record Store Day 2016 special releases, and there were only 4000 copies of the album pressed on vinyl. They included a handwritten number of what number your record is in the 4000. 748 is a respectable number, and a relatively early pressing. It’s cool to think that out of only 4000, mine was the 748th album that rolled off the press. “Well yeah, of course it’s the 748th copy”, you may say. True, but hey. It’s still a cool thought. I imagine the person who has album no. 0001 is riding high. Other than the picture, the back is rather plain. At least it has all the pertinent information like track listing, dates, etc. Again, to compare this modern album jacket to older jackets, nowhere on the record does it specifically and noticeably proclaim to be in stereo. In 2016, I suppose it’s safe to assume everyone is using stereo equipment now and not mono.
The album was pressed on heavy 180g vinyl in fantastic stereo. MPS made some fantastic-sounding records in the 1960’s and 70’s (check out Oscar Peterson’s Exclusively For My Friends material), and this is a great example of their recording sound. According to book on Oscar Peterson entitled ‘The Will To Swing’ by Gene Lees, HGBS not only used state of the art microphones, but put the mics so close to the piano strings that they were nearly touching. The result is an intimate, rich-sounding recording. The labels lack the character of many of the vintage records; they look more like CD labels than record labels, but that’s just me. Naturally, these aren’t deep groove, although it looks like they tried. I’ve only included pictures of the first record, since the other one looks exactly the same. Among the etchings in the runout is a handwritten ‘BG’, which I assume are the initials of Bernie Grundman, the man who mastered the sound for the vinyl release.
The Place of Acquisition
Record Store Day is an annual celebration of indie record stores across the world that takes place every third Saturday of April (yet another reason to celebrate the month of April). On this day, record labels and bands release special vinyl to different record stores, and this album was one of those special releases. I found out about the album a few weeks after the event was over, but I emailed my favorite local record store to see if they had it. They did, and they even said they’d hold it for me. Amen. A few days later, I picked it up for the high price of $45, which is so far the most I’ve paid for a single album. Cue the laughing record collectors who drop hundreds for a single album. Looking online, I discovered that $45 was a steal. This album is going for over $200 on Discogs and eBay, and there’s only two listings for the vinyl edition on eBay as of 16 April, 2017. More reasons to visit and build a relationship with the local record store.