Bill Evans/Shelly Manne with Monty Budwig: Empathy

The pianist isn't at his peak in this music recorded after the demise of the celebrated Motion-LaFaro trio but never fails to hold interest


In 1959 Evans had formed a trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motion, and created some of the finest piano trio music you could ever wish to hear. (A few months earlier he had made invaluable contributions to Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue, one of the most highly regarded jazz albums in the history of the genre.)

Sadly, in July 1961 LaFaro (who had also worked impressively in the radically different sound world of Ornette Coleman) died in a car crash and Evans understandably seemed to lose heart. He ceased performing for a while, and did not establish another regular trio until 1963. The tracks on this album date from that interim period, except for the quartet version of Goodbye, featuring half of the Modern Jazz Quartet and Adderley, a colleague from Kind Of Blue.

The opening piece, an Irving Berlin composition based on Frankie And Johnny, is given a rather eccentric gait by the use of the Sidewinder riff. It’s followed by a somewhat more characteristic performance of the traditional Irish song. Side one of this vinyl reissue closes with a bonus track, a longer (nearly 11 minute) solo version of that song. In between, Let’s Go Back To The Waltz (also by Berlin) demonstrates some of Evans’ most spirited playing from the main session.

Side two is livelier from the start of the Rodgers and Hart standard, With A Song In My Heart, which builds to a dialogue between Evans and Manne, but nothing so corny as trading fours. Without knowing the order in which the August ’62 tracks were recorded it is tempting to think that as the session progressed Evans was emotionally preparing for the next stage of his development.

Whilst Empathy is not Evans at his peak, it is never less than enjoyable, and never fails to hold the interest.

(1) The Washington Twist; Danny Boy; Let’s Go Back To The Waltz; (2) Danny Boy; (1) With A Song In My Heart; Goodbye; I Believe In You; (3) Goodbye (52.50)
(1) Evans (p); Budwig (b); Manne (d). New York, 20 August 1962.
(2) Evans (p). New York, 10 April 1962.
(3) Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (as); Evans (p); Percy Heath (b); Connie Kaye (d). New York, 27 January 1961.
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