by Willard Manus
Resonance Records has done jazz fans a sizable favor by releasing BILL EVANS--LIVE AT THE TOP OF THE VILLAGE GATE, a two-CD set that was first recorded, back in 1968, by George Klabin, then a 22-year-old with a passion for the music of pianist Evans. Invited by the latter's manager to record Evans during his gig (with a new trio) at the legendary Top of the Gate, Klabin recorded two sets on the same night, catching Evans at his lyrical best. Aired only once, on Klabin's Columbia University radio show, the concert has not been released in any form until now.
Evans, joined by bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Mart Morell, plunges into each of the CD's seventeen tunes with exuberance and joy, bringing to life in a fresh way such standards as Round Midnight, My Funny Valentine and In a Sentimental Mood. He also lights up the night sky with one of his original compositions, Turn Out the Stars.
Evans' unique melodic style and chord-phrasing are much in evidence here, but it's the chemistry with Gomez and Morell that is all-important. Together these jazz musketeers set the bar high for the trios that followed them, but their music needs close listening to be fully appreciated.
Resonance has also done the late Bill Evans proud by putting together a splendidly packaged CD containing a booklet with essays by Klabin, producer Zev Feldman, critic Nat Hentoff, vibist Gary Burton and Raphael D'Lugoff, son of the founder of the Village Gate, Art D'Lugoff. The CD includes historical photographs and documents from the heyday of the club, including a copy of the actual contract signed by Evans at the Gate--a week's work for a thousand bucks.