In December 1969, Bill Evans played a series of shows at London's famed Ronnie Scott's jazz club with his then relatively new trio of Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums. The group would become his longest-running trio, playing with him until 1974. The group was on fire, feeding off each other's energy and playing at a very high level. Fortunately for fans, a recording exists of these remarkable shows. First released on vinyl for Record Store Day and now available on CD, Evans In England feels like a classic album, one that has been with us through the years but, in fact, the existence of the tapes was only made known recently.
In 2016, nearly 50 years after the residency, Zev Feldman of Resonance Records received an email claiming to have unreleased, high-quality recordings of the performances. He made contact with Leon Terjanian, who did, indeed have the recordings, which were made by an Evans fan known only as Jo. Evans caught Jo in the act and was initially displeased he had made the recordings, but Jo eventually gained his trust and Evans even had him make copies for him so he could critique his work. The recordings are a revelation.
The album opens with a spirited "Our Love Is Here To Stay." Gomez gives a lengthy, inspired bass solo that seems to drive his band mates, with Evans, especially, letting loose in the second half of the song, pushing the group to staggering heights. The level of musicianship here can't be understated. These are masters on top of their games. A beautiful "Sugar Plum" follows with Evans setting the mood unaccompanied before being joined by Gomez and Morell for understated, yet effective, accompaniment. Evans' playing is nimble, but always within the song. The song was new to fans in 1969, as Evans would not release it on record until 1971, so this was a nice treat.
On Evans' classic "Waltz For Debby," he pushes his band mates, playing the song at a faster tempo and they are up to the challenge. Gomez and Morell lock into an inspired bass and drums interplay, which in turn inspires Evans for the song's thrilling climax. "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)" closes out disc one and showcases a four-minute bass solo from Gomez that never seems to overstay its welcome. When the full group kicks back in, Evans' plays at breakneck speed, pulling off lightning fast runs with ease. One can sense the excitement these men had playing together and it shows in the music.
A delicate "Elsa" opens disc two. A gentle waltz that the entire band eases the listener into, it showcases some brilliant playing from all three members. Gomez shines on the Miles Davis classic "So What," driving the song with his explosive bass lines. The trio proves equally adept at up-tempo numbers such as this one as they are on the ballads. What a thrill it must have been for the audience to have seen this performed live.
The CD closes with a brilliant reading of "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" that finds Evans delivering a gorgeous melody over a subtle backdrop. The track is a brilliant way to end a brilliant recording.
The sound quality throughout is excellent, especially given the methods used to record the album. If there is a beef, it is that the songs are faded out, but beggars can't be choosers and it is far more important to have this material out there than not. The extensive liner notes include interviews with Gomez, Morell and Terjanian.
Bill Evans' trio with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell is one of his best loved and it is easy to see why. The three musicians played well off each other and the brilliant performances on Evans In England are proof positive of that.