I believe it was an old friend, Bill Byam, who first told me of this DVD of the last trio featuring Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbara. The only other videos of this trio that I know of are the Jazz at the Maintenance Shop, recorded in January 1979 and the August 1980 Molde performance
After ordering, as has happened before, I discovered I already had a copy sent from a friend about two years ago. This DVD is exactly the same concert recorded and broadcast by RAISAT, the national TV broadcast company of Italy. The Italian broadcast has the RAISAT logo in the upper left hand corner of the screen. On this DVD, that logo is replaced by “Impro-Jazz” and the producer and cameramen credits are omitted. The DVD is mailed from Spain, although this country is never indicated on the jazzmessengers web site.
As far as video and audio quality are concerned, the previous copy I had is better than this release. First, the speed of playback is slightly increased making it sharp if you want to play along on your A=440 tuned piano. My other video copy is directly from the live satellite broadcast, probably eliminating at least one generation of signal loss. The audio track is just slightly ahead of the video also. This is minor and doesn’t really detract from the product. (It is the same on my direct broadcast version.) What does detract is the increased flutter in the sound. Marc’s upper register bass playing, like most other bass players, can be slightly out of tune at times. It is more noticeable here that in my broadcast copy.
In addition, there is some severe editing on this release. The introduction of the first tune “My Man’s Gone Now” was edited, maybe to eliminate the producer credits that rolled over Bill playing a few notes for Marc to tune by. This works out well since “My Man” is in E-minor and the bass is tuned E, A, D, G. Another production complaint is the way this piano, and perhaps most Italian pianos, are voiced. They seem to be much brighter in the upper register than German or U.S. pianos. This is quite noticeable when Bill’s playing solo. He seems to try for more variety of color than the instrument is capable of producing. This is evident in the intro to the last track, “My Romance” and in Bill’s very recognizable intro to his tune “The Two Lonely People.” For “My Romance” Bill plays what I call the “full monte” intro, which can be heard in the Keystone Korner recordings, especially those from the first two nights (recorded eight months later.) This full intro is available in a great transcription by Pascal Wetzel in a Hal Leonard publication.
There is one strange place in Marc’s first solo chorus where Marc’s left hand freezes but the sound we hear is him soaring into the upper register. I don’t think it’s an edit, just a camera glitch. The arrangement of “My Romance” had gone through quite an evolution by this time. After playing the solo piano intro in Ab for three choruses Bill modulates to the key of C and the trio comes in for one chorus. Then Marc and Joe LaBarbera alternate solo choruses in different tempos, each adjusting to the other’s tempo choice. Then Bill comes in and joins them. After a few bars there is added applause and a quick fade-out. Unless the listener is familiar with this trio’s extended treatment, it will seem as if the tune is ending. Of course the trio went on for another four or five minutes of great music – which you won’t hear on this product. Make sure you listen to any one of the eight different versions recorded on the Keystone Korner dates (recorded just before Bill passed away) to hear the entire thing. This edit was also on my earlier version, but came a few seconds later after the closing credits played — and there was no added applause, just the quick fade-out. From these obvious edits we can conclude that this product was once owned by the RAI and either sold to, or otherwise appropriated by Impro-Jazz for this DVD.
The location of the recording is still a mystery – it was not indicated on my broadcast video. The room seems to be like a small cave, with tiered theater-type seating, maybe holding thirty-five people at the most. No one was drinking and there was absolute silence during the music. Two, possibly three cameras were used and the shots were fairly professional for the most part. There are some audience shots, particularly of one short guy in a striped suit, who might be the late Romano Mussolini, son of the famous dictator and a decent jazz pianist. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4676934.stm) The shots of Bill are good in that any picture of the master’s hands are good to have and worthy of study.
Except for the aforementioned technical flaws, the music is good and the DVD is a far superior video product of the last trio when compared to the “Jazz at the Maintenance Shop” release. This is a great period in Bill’s career, and is comparable to some great audio CDs ,such as the Buenos Aries recordings and “Homecoming” to name two. The price of about $33 U.S. makes it a worthy addition to your Bill Evans collection.
Win Hinkle is a professional bassist, a Bill Evans scholar and was a consultant to Peter Pettinger, author of the biography “How My Heart Sings”. He was the editor of the hard copy newsletter quarterly “Letter From Evans” during the 1980s.
Also – Read Win’s review of “Bill Evans Plays Standards” here