Further Explorations is a tribute to the great pianist Bill Evans by three jazz greats who are associated with him and his over-30-year career. This 2-CD tribute is a triumph, and one of the best jazz albums ever of its kind. The tragedy of this album is that one of the trio’s key members (and a key member of Evans’ most outstanding trio), drummer Paul Motian, died 18 months after the May 2010 live recording.
Even though the 2-CD set was assembled before Motian’s death last November, at age 80, the loss seems to be tossed in the listener’s face by the powerful 16-bar drum intro to the album’s first tune, “Peri’s Scope”. Motian’s energetic playing throughout Further Explorations is a colossal switch from his usual sensitive, rubato performances of his own compositions in the albums he recorded over his final forty years.
The “other” two musicians on the album have their own connection to Bill Evans. Bassist Eddie Gomez held the low end of Evans’ trio for eleven years in the 1960’s and ’70’s. And pianist Chick Corea is considered, along with Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, to be one of the top keyboard masters to come out of the Evans “school” of players. Of course, when Gomez and Evans played together, they rarely reached the ebullient heights scaled on this tribute.
Corea’s playing has rarely been as subtle as Bill Evans’ was, and no exceptions are made here. Even though Evans could tickle the piano as quickly as any pianist of his day (indeed, his favorite piano player was bebop firebrand Bud Powell), he kept his technique chained to a more subtle style. On this event, Corea even plays ballads, such as “Alice in Wonderland” with untrammelled verve.
And Gomez doesn’t dial down his meter, either. In fact, he tunelessly “scat sings” along with his solos. He even does this with his “walking” basslines, on which he plays “double stops”, even at the fastest tempos.
Technique is not the only quality Further Explorations has going for it. The sheer joy of jazz improvization, mistakes and all (and the reader is defied to fo find any mistakes here), keeps the live audience at the Blue Note in New York and the CD audience enraptured and clinging to every note. This is what jazz is about, especially when paying tribute to a very special musician.
As always, the best way to get Further Explorations is to head down to Twist and Shout, Denver’s best independent record store. But, whatever way you do it, get to this recording. It’s well over two hours of the most joyous jazz you’ll ever hear.