Bill Evans: Symbiosis

Evans' luminous piano playing is the best thing in what appears to be an inflated and pretentious musical score

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This 1974 collaboration between the Bill Evans Trio, Claus Ogerman and a large concert orchestra received scant attention on its initial release. Certainly not among the greatest of his recordings, it has more recently begun to attract more favourable estimates.

Evans biographer Keith Shadwick commends the session with the assertion that he “brings to the work [in two movements] the consummate artistry and sensitivity that occurs when he is stretched and stimulated”. Evans himself commented: “With Symbiosis, I only wish to say that this recording is one of those events which happen rather infrequently but in which I’m most proud to have participated.”

But Evans also added: “I am increasingly tempted to direct the listener to the pure aural experience of the music, and decreasingly interested in verbiage about the same.” Reviewers take note. In his original liner notes, Ogerman, explaining the title, says that Symbiosis stands for Bill’s free playing and the binding severe text of the score.”

Despite (or because of) repeated playing, this reviewer finds little to recommend in a far from “severe” overblown/inflated and pretentious musical score. The only redeeming features are, unsurprisingly, Evans’ luminous playing (on Steinway and Fender-Rhodes pianos), and the sections featuring Gomez and Morell. Shadwick notwithstanding, is this a case of The Emperor’s new clothes? Perhaps I’m missing something here. Advice welcome.

Discography
1st Movement Moderato, various tempi); 2nd Movement (41.00)
Composed and arranged by Claus Ogerman. The Bill Evans Trio: Evans (p); Eddie Gomez (b); Marty Morell (d). Orchestra includes Phil Woods, Jerry Dodgion (as); Hubert Laws (f); George Marge, Phil Bodner (o); Danny Bank (cl, bcl); Wally Kane (bsn); Brooks Tillotson, James Buffington, Pete Gordon (frh); Marvin Stamm, Bernie Glow, Marky Markowitz (t); Urbie Green (tenor tb); Tommy Mitchell (btb); Don Butterfield (tu); George Devens, Doug Allen (pc); Ralph McDonald (d). Claus Ogerman (cond). New York City. 11, 12 & 14 February 1974.
MPS 0211548MSW