Conversations With Myself - Bill Evans - LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #94

It must be rather frustrating, as a musician, to try and convey ideas in your head to other musicians with whom you are playing. No matter how precise the explaination, no matter how accurate the demonstration, no other musician is ever going to perfectly match the sounds in your head. They can come close, but no cigar. Bill Evans managed to completely circumvent this problem on his album Conversations with Myself by using overdubbing, something unprecedented in jazz music in his day. Yet it wasn’t done as a gimmick, some sort of tape experimentation a la Messrs. McCartney and Lennon, no. The idea was simply to expand upon Evans’ own ideas beyond what was physically possible if he were playing solo.  As he says himself in the liner notes: “Another condition to be considered is the fact that I know my musical techniques more thoroughly than any other person, so that, it seems to me, I am equipped to respond to my previous musical statements with the most accuracy and clarity.”

Despite the presence of three pianos on all but one track, Conversations with Myself never feels overindulgent or tumultuous. Evans’ playing on each track gave great sensitivity to the other tracks playing simultaneously, so that there were no clashes and a great deal of compliments. One piano track usually takes the lead in the middle registers while the other two vamp over the higher and lower registers respectively, giving a much richer and fuller sound to these solo pieces. Ideas are traded from piano to piano respectively, Evans uses his own cues to jump off on further ideas and expand on them across three piano overdubs… the result is often quite mesmerizing, Evans had previously played with Miles Davis, who described his approach as both a “quiet fire” and “crystal notes or sparking water cascading down some clear waterfall.” These serene, regal and proficient skills are frequently intertwined and expounded with profound majesty. On the opener ‘Round Midnight, his generous use of harmony and countermelodies gives this bebop standard an impressionist, almost classical feel, highlighted by his silky touch, giving us that “quiet fire” Davis spoke so highly of. On the Broadway Standard How About You?, Evans reveals his playful style with a showcase of dazzling virtuosity in a nimble rendition, full of vivid colour and sparkle.

As well as being a treat for fans of Evans, this disc also had a great deal of public appeal. Not only had nothing like this been attempted in jazz on such a scale before, but it also contained a token popular song; the love song from Kubrick’s recent smash Spartacus. Token selling point as it was, this particular rendition is among the most beautiful pieces on the disc, with Evans frequently cascading into the higher registers to add a shimmer to his already dazzling performance(s). And despite the fact that the album could have been too dense or too daring, the critics and the public lapped it up. I do too. What’s most remarkable about the album is the never-ending succession of ideas simply flowing like water from the tips of Evans’ fingers. Their depth and variety aren’t just impressive; they’re almost intimidating. One gets the impression that, were it viable, he could have overdubbed these tracks ten times, although for the majesty, subtlety and relative accessibility of this album, I’m glad he just did the three.

Words – Adam.

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