Resonance Records marked this year’s Record Store Day with two world premieres celebrating the artistry of two late jazz titans, Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery. Now, those titles have arrived on CD, and they’re both worthy successors to the label’s past releases from both artists.
Evans in England, featuring bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, captures the pianist’s longest-running trio a little over a year into their lifespan and already showcasing their exquisite interplay. Recorded at Ronnie Scott’s, London, in December 1969, at a time when rock was seeping into jazz, Evans’ sets were a breath of fresh air. The Trio played a near monthlong engagement there for trad-jazz audiences appreciative of their acoustic sound. Blending standards and originals in his introspective, thoughtful style, Evans in England captures eighteen songs on two discs of beautifully moody late-night music. Throughout these captivating, improvised musical conversations, all three musicians stretch and shine.
The Trio’s way with a standard can’t be underestimated, from the Gershwins’ fleet opener “Our Love Is Here to Stay” through Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” Evans sneaks up on the familiar melody of “My Foolish Heart” and inventively drives “Round Midnight” (which he first recorded in 1956 with the Tony Scott Quartet) with his use of block chords. A specialist in aching melancholy, Evans brought out the aching vulnerability in the pair of dramatic musical questions, “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” as warmly supported by Gomez and Morell, their collective music capturing the sensibility and feel of the unsung lyrics. The overall energy and attack on the former are tremendous, highlighted by Gomez’s impressive and lengthy solo. Another strong turn from Gomez came on Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “Come Rain or Come Shine,” matched by Evans and Morell’s tight playing off each other. Evans also looked back to his days with Miles Davis with a swinging, cool “So What.”
A number of Evans’ greatest original compositions can be heard in fresh versions here, including “Waltz for Debby,” “Re: Person I Knew,” and “Turn Out the Stars.” The spellbinding “Sugar Plum,” a virtuosic exploration of key changes based on a four-bar improvised phrase, got an early airing at Ronnie Scott’s. So did “The Two Lonely People,” composed to a dark, rueful lyric sent to Evans by singer-songwriter Carol Hall (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). Both of the latter songs wouldn’t appear on a record until 1971. One of his earliest songs is here, too, with the aptly-named “Very Early,” written while Evans was in college. He tore into it with joyful abandon.
The deluxe set, elegantly designed by John Sellards and Burton Yount, includes a 36-page booklet chockablock with insightful commentaries from key personnel. Leon Terjanian, who supplied the tape recorded by an anonymous fan and (later) friend of Evans at a front table, notes accurately of the artist, “he is so inside the music that sometimes it’s very hard to listen.” Listening to Evans can indeed be hard in the sense that there’s such introspection and such intimacy, one can feel like a voyeur. But the rewards are ample. Eddie Gomez offers that there were “layers of humanity” in his friend and bandleader, so many of which can be revealed with each listen. He also notes how Evans inspired musicians as diverse as Barry Manilow and John Williams with his singular style at the keys. George Klabin and Fran Gala have restored the concert, which has been mastered by Gala; while the audio expectedly isn’t studio quality, it’s clean, full, and balanced.
Resonance is also continuing its story of influential guitarist Wes Montgomery’s early days. Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings takes listeners back to the late 1950s, at the foundation of his artistry, and prior to his signing with Riverside Records. The title calls to mind Resonance’s 2012 collection Echoes of Indiana Avenue, which has since been followed by numerous other significant Montgomery vault excursions. Carroll DeCamp was the pianist-arranger who had the foresight to record the guitarist live, in a local Indianapolis studio, and at his home; though it wasn’t known at the time, DeCamp’s recordings were those which premiered on Echoes of Indiana Avenue. Now that his identity has been discovered, he is fully credited by Resonance for this new, equally fascinating treasure trove.
These recordings find the late Montgomery in numerous settings including piano quartets, organ trios, sextets with trombone and saxophone, and drummer-less trios a la The Nat King Cole Trio. While it’s impossible to determine exact personnel, there’s no mistaking Montgomery’s distinctive sound, achieved by plucking the guitar strings with the side of his thumb. It’s an educated guess that his sidemen include Wes’ brothers Buddy and Monk Montgomery and longtime collaborator Melvin Rhyne, pianists John Bunch, Earl Van Riper, and Carl Perkins (not the rock-and-roll hero but an African-American jazzman), bassist Mingo Jones, drummers Paul Parker and Sonny Johnson, trombonist David Baker, and saxophonist David Young.
Many of the songs on Back on Indiana Avenue will be familiar to those well-acquainted with Wes’ Riverside repertoire. Embryonic versions of “Round Midnight,” “Jingles,” “Whisper Not,” “The End of a Love Affair,” “Ecaroh,” “West Coast Blues,” “Four on Six,” “Mr. Walker,” “Tune-Up,” and “Sandu” are all featured. The recognizable, accessible style which Creed Taylor would later turn into commercial pop gold for the artist at A&M/CTI is evident on tracks like the tight, breezy “The End of a Love Affair” and feisty “Tune-Up.” In other words, these recordings may be early, but they present a fully developed Wes Montgomery sound.
One unqualified highlight is Miles Davis’ “So What,” given a seemingly effortless, insouciant swing treatment with the quartet setting (guitar, drums, bass, piano). In the organ trio (organ, bass, guitar) setting, Montgomery and co. deliver a loose, spirited “Jingles” (on which he deftly shifts between individual note and chord leads), upbeat “It’s You or No One,” and slightly exotic, Latin-tinged “Nothing Ever Changes My Love for You.” The two trombone and saxophone numbers (“Sandu” and “Whisper Not”) are the most happily unusual, with Wes taking on a subtler role.
Montgomery was inspired by the sound of Nat “King” Cole’s trio, and according the notes here, even once approached a disinterested Cole about playing with him. The second disc of this set exclusively focuses on guitar/bass/piano trio performances, including many standards, and they’re uniformly top-notch. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is a breakneck tour de force; a longer “It’s You or No One” has a totally different feel than on the organ trio take with more prominent bass and piano rather than organ. “Summertime” brings out a touch of the blues; “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” is fast, zesty, and jubilant.
The collection includes a thick, 44-page booklet with essays by historian Lewis Porter and producer Zev Feldman, appreciations of Carroll DeCamp, interviews with jazz legends George Benson and John Scofield, saxophonist-educator Jamey Aebersold, Carroll’s brother Malcom DeCamp, and Carroll’s nephew, guitarist Royce Campbell. While the sound quality varies, it’s altogether impressive given the age of the recordings. The consistency of the audio owes to the fine restoration and mastering by George Klabin and Fran Gala.
Effectively curated, well restored, comprehensively annotated, and beautifully designed, both Evans in England and Echoes of Indiana Avenue are not only vivid snapshots of these artists at crucial times in their careers, but prove why Resonance Records remains one of the gold standards in historical jazz reissues.