Bill Evans – At The Montreux Jazz Festival

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  • Evan’s Classic Live album from the Montreux Jazz Festival returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • A killer Verve stereo pressing, with lovely richness and warmth, real space and wonderful immediacy throughout
  • Recorded live in 1968, this superb release pairs Evans’ unique piano improvisations with bandmates Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette
  • 4 stars: “Evans, famous for a soft-spoken pianistic touch, seems driven to new vistas on this album. He experiments more with harmonic dissonance and striking rhythmical contrasts, making this his most extroverted playing since his freshman release, New Jazz Conceptions.”

This vintage Verve T-label pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting at the festival with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of Bill Evans at The Montreux Jazz Festival have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1968
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the festival venue

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above.

The Piano

If you have full-range speakers some of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano are WEIGHT and WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. This is what we look for in a good piano recording. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to reproduce the full spectrum of the piano’s wide range (and of course the wonderful performance of the pianist) on vintage vinyl, showing us the kind of sound we simply cannot find any other way.

What We’re Listening For on Bill Evans At The Montreux Jazz Festival

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the piano and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt – Val Valentin in this case — would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Engineering by Val Valentin

Val Valentin‘s list of credits runs for days. Some high points are of course Ella and Louis, and Getz/Gilberto, two records that belong in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection.

We played a copy of We Get Requests by the Oscar Peterson Trio not long ago that blew our minds. And we have been big fans of Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley for more than a decade.

Pull up his credits on Allmusic. No one I am familiar with other than Rudy Van Gelder recorded more great jazz, and in our opinion Valentin’s recordings are quite a bit more natural sounding than Rudy’s, especially with regard to the sound of the piano.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

One For Helen
A Sleeping Bee
Mother Of Earl
Nardis

Side Two

I Loves You Porgy
The Touch Of Your Lips
Embraceable You
Someday My Prince Will Come
Walkin’ Up

AMG 4 Star Review

Bill Evans’ 1968 release, At the Montreux Jazz Festival, marks the beginning of stylistic changes for the legendary pianist. Only one year earlier, his At Town Hall release found his approach generally more introspective and brooding. In contrast, this set is more lively, playful, and experimental.

Much of this is down to the active and intense drumming of Jack DeJohnette, who had joined the trio only a short time before this concert was recorded; longtime bandmate Eddie Gomez is also featured on this album. His energetic soloing adds veracity to tunes such as “Embraceable You” and “A Sleeping Bee.” DeJohnette, too, is given several opportunities to display his drumming skills. His lengthy solo on “Nardis” displays his technical prowess and four-way coordination; such acumen would later cause jazz fans and critics alike to hail DeJohnette as one of the world’s premier jazz drummers.

Evans, famous for a soft-spoken pianistic touch, seems driven to new vistas on this album. He experiments more with harmonic dissonance and striking rhythmical contrasts, making this his most extroverted playing since his freshman release, New Jazz Conceptions.

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