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When Live at Top of the Gate was recorded in October 1968, drummer Marty Morell had just joined Bill Evans’s trio – bassist Eddie Gomez had been with him since 1966. One of many posthumous releases since the pianist’s death in 1980, it crystallises the controversy over his later career. ‘Bill was particularly energetic that night, and there was a lot of exploration and excitement,’ Morell reported. But one not untypical bulletin-board comment is that he ‘rushes the tempo [and] stays so on top of the beat as to reduce his swing quotient to that of a mechanical type- writer’. Evans found it hard to create a relaxed, swinging uptempo, as perhaps on some tracks here – a difficult issue that requires an article to unravel. But his later career still achieved heights of creativity, and, on occasion, the spaciousness of his early classics – even towards the end, under the influence of the cocaine that killed him.

That spaciousness is recreated here on Mother of Earl, a gorgeous Earl Zindars composition from Evans’s 1968 Montreux album. This adds up to three available versions by the pianist – his 1980 recording is on YouTube – and what transcendentally beautiful music-making this is. Emily and Round Midnight fall only a little short of it.

Top of the Gate doesn’t displace Montreux II from 1970 as this trio’s finest recording, but – though the piano is a little muddy – it captures the new trio’s intimacy rather well for a live gig. Evans was a supreme jazz artist, and those listeners who seem almost to deify him are right to do so.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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