With Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate, Resonance Records offers listeners a table at the front of the stage for a stellar performance by one of jazz's greatest trios. It's October 23, 1968 in Greenwich Village, and legendary pianist Bill Evans is joined by bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell for two top-notch sets, represented here in their entirety. Aired only once, on Columbia University radio station WKCR-FM, this concert hasn't been heard for more than forty years and has never been released in any form.
"This gives people a good idea of what it must have been like to be in the room at the time and experience the music," says producer Zev Feldman. "We've done everything short of building a time machine."
The credit for the recording's remarkable clarity and intimacy rests entirely with George Klabin, then a 22-year-old recording engineer granted unprecedented access to the date by Evans' longtime manager, Helen Keane. Jazz fans can be forgiven for being skeptical after countless long-lost jazz recordings have hit the market only to sound as if they were transmitted over the telephone via a bad connection on a stormy night. Klabin, however, conscientiously positioned separate microphones on each member of the trio, yielding a pristine mix that's the next best thing to being there. This is, quite possibly, the best-engineered and most gorgeous-sounding live recording ever made of Evans.
"Being able to hear jazz up close, as I did in clubs, I was dismayed by what I heard on live recordings," Klabin recalls. "The sound was so often muddy and distant and not satisfying. I wanted to capture the intimacy."
The benefits of Klabin's approach can be heard from the first notes of Evans' delicate introduction to "Emily," which ring out with a hushed brilliance while the gentle murmur of diners can be heard unobtrusively in the background. "This release celebrates the memory of Bill Evans," Feldman says, "but it also celebrates the memory of Art D'Lugoff, who was a visionary and obviously one of New York's greatest music impresarios, and the Village Gate as well, which sadly is no longer with us either."
D'Lugoff opened the Village Gate in 1958, followed by the upstairs club, Top of The Gate, a few years later. The Greenwich Village establishments thrived for the next three-and-a-half decades, hosting not only the era's most influential figures in jazz but rising stars in folk music, world music, blues, and comedy, as well as off-Broadway shows. Just to give some idea of how central the Gate was: at the same time that Evans, Gomez and Morell were treating the audience upstairs to the music you're listening to now, patrons downstairs were thrilling to the sounds of Thelonious Monk or Charles Lloyd, whose quartets were sharing the stage that week.
Despite that monumental double-bill, however, the evidence we now have proves that it would have been difficult to top the show being put on by the Evans trio. At this time, Gomez was two years into what would become an eleven-year stint in the trio, while Morell had joined the group literally the same week the show was documented. The trio had quickly found its footing, however, playing at the height of their powers individually and collectively. For proof, look no further than the extended drum/bass interaction on the second disc's "Autumn Leaves."
Throughout the two sets, Evans showcases his gift for interpreting standards, playing only one original ("Turn Out the Stars") over the seventeen tracks. "My Funny Valentine" moves effortlessly from tenderness to passion, while "Gone With the Wind" erupts at a breakneck pace and "Here's That Rainy Day" concludes the evening with heart-breaking emotion.
Students of Evans' music will be delighted to see that three pieces ("Emily," "Yesterdays," and "'Round Midnight") are represented in both the first and second sets, offering a rare opportunity to compare the soloists' diverging takes on the same tunes in a single evening. Also, as Feldman points out in his notes, several of the selections possess historic significance: both "My Funny Valentine" and "Here's That Rainy Day" (and possibly "Mother of Earl") mark Evans' first documented trio performances of those songs, while "Here's That Rainy Day" may be the first time Evans recorded that piece period.
In addition to offering this vital concert for the first time, Feldman and Klabin have labored to surround the music with important context, assembling a package rich with photographs, information and reminiscences. Both Gomez and Morell offer heartfelt reflections of their time with Evans, while Klabin explains his methods in enlightening detail and Raphael D'Lugoff looks back at growing up in his father's legendary venue. A younger Raphael can be seen in a family photo alongside his father and sister Sharon, one of several historical documents included in the package, which also features memorabilia from the club and the actual contract for the week signed by Evans. D'Lugoff also provided a picture of the bustling street scene outside the Gate from the 1960s.
The liner notes also include an essay by pioneering jazz critic Nat Hentoff, an appreciation by the great vibist Gary Burton. These notes are lined with iconic photographs by Jan Persson, Raymond Ross, Herb Snitzer, Fred Seligo, and Tom Copi, whose striking cover image is graced by the original logo from the Top of the Gate sign.
The Absolute Sound -
Earlier this year Resonance released a previously unheard collection by Wes Montgomery, which this reviewer noted might be the “rediscovered” jazz record of the year. This new Bill Evans release may provide the strongest competition.
Live at Art D’Lugoff ’s Top of The Gate is even more lavishly packaged than its predecessor and has a clear edge in sound quality. In fact, it’s possibly the best of the many live recordings the iconic pianist made, captured by George Klabin, an engineer and director of jazz programming at WKCR radio.
That was late 1968, when Evans was breaking in a new trio with Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums. Klabin’s close-miking gives us great presence; I can’t think of another recording where one hears the interplay between Evans and the long-serving Gomez so clearly, and while we might wish for more than one original tune, jazz, as the pianist said, is a “how,” not a “what,” and he was among the greatest interpreters of standards in the music’s history. This is state-of-the-art production and timeless music.
All About Jazz Italy -
D'Lugoff's is certainly not an easy name for an Italian to pronounce, yet it deserves a little effort, because it is a remarkable place. It was the club located one floor above the most famous Village Gate and for this nicknamed "Top of the Gate". It welcomed artists of the same caliber and it often happened that Bill Evans' trio played there while Thelonious Monk was operating just below. We can only envy the jazz fan who, in October 1968, was in doubt as to which plan to choose, provided he didn't have enough dollars to share the evening between Evans and Monk ...
The recording that the Resonance label offers in two compacts with the usual rich information booklet attached, is an unpublished high quality, thanks to which we can listen in its training phase to one of the best formations of the Evans trio, taken with extreme audiophile care. It is not, in fact, a bootleg for a few fans, but a life that a man named George Klabin made by miking each instrument at a very close distance and with the ability to avoid the distortions made probable by so much research of the acoustic detail. The result is therefore excellent, up to, if not higher than, many official lives.
The trio was formed by Eddie Gomez, with Evans since 1966 and well aware of Scott LaFaro's lesson, but with his own personal, dialectical, elegant, but also robust, aggressive character. Marty Morell had just arrived and the engagement at Top of the Gate was his trio debut. He respected the role outlined by Paul Motian for drums, but like Gomez and perhaps in the sign of the times, he possessed his own executive determination.
They are important elements to understand this life and its strength, determined by a meeting of personalities, aligned with Evans' aesthetics, but bearers of an expressive urgency that pushed the pianist to very dynamic interpretations, with a strong impact, with nostalgic traits of the bebop by Bud Powell. Not that the famous touch was gone, the first notes of Emily confirm it without doubts, with their gracefulness and the peculiar taste for voicing able to combine strong dissonances and clearer combinations of impressionist matrix.
The repertoire is as interesting as the other elements of this remarkable unpublished: here Evans tackles many songs for the first time and others make one of their rare appearances in the book of a musician very tied to a small number of standards. In some cases, see 'Round Midnight, the presence in the two sets of the concert allows you to compare very different and creative versions.
At the top of the Village Gate, great music was made on October 23, 1968.
Jazz History Online
In a dramatic example of the difference between jazz fans and everyone else, the name of pianist Bill Evans is virtually unknown to the world at large, but in the jazz world, he is revered as one of the greatest influences in the music’s history. Like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, the mere presence of Evans on a previously unissued recording is enough to spawn significant jazz album sales, even if the music or the audio is of dubious quality. Thankfully, the latest vintage Evans recording, Resonance’s “Live at The Top of the Gate”, is an important and superbly recorded document of the Bill Evans Trio at an important time in their evolution.
The Top of the Gate was a New York restaurant and jazz club situated directly above the famous club, The Village Gate. Evans was a regular performer at Top of the Gate, and he brought his trio in for a month-long engagement starting October 15, 1968. Eddie Gomez had been Evans’ bassist for about a year and a half, and as he states in the liner notes, he was starting to feel comfortable as part of the group. Evans had used several different drummers (including Philly Joe Jones and Jack DeJohnette) in months prior, but hired Marty Morell as his drummer for the Top of the Gate appearances. As it turned out, Morell’s tenure in the trio would continue for the next five years. On October 23, George Klabin recorded the trio’s first two sets for a one-time broadcast on Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR-FM. Those recordings, newly restored, comprise Resonance’s new 2-album release.
Klabin recorded with four microphones and mixed directly to two-track stereo. He used close-in miking which reduced the ambiance and noise from the room while emphasizing the mechanics of the instruments. One can hear the piano’s keyboard action as Evans leans into the instrument, Gomez’ fingernails scraping the bass soundboard, and the resonance of Morell’s floor tom and bass drum. The recording also adds to the aggressive feel of this music.
The first set seems especially edgy, with Evans accenting three-against-four patterns to create cross-rhythms with the rest of the trio. While the model for the trio’s three-way improvisations was still Evans’ trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, Gomez was a busier player than LaFaro, and with his prominent sound, there seems to be more competition between the melodic voices of piano and bass. Morell seems to have found his niche fairly early; only a week and a half into the gig, he intuitively found ways to insert his active and swinging brushwork into the trio’s sound.
There are 17 performances on the Resonance set, all rather compact for a live set (the longest cut is 7 minutes). The repertoire includes several surprises, including the first Evans trio versions of “My Funny Valentine” and “Here’s That Rainy Day” (the latter was part of the solo album, “Alone”, recorded just days earlier). Two pieces from the LaFaro/Motian trio book turn up for isolated performances: “Witchcraft” gets its first Evans recording since 1959, and “Autumn Leaves” returns to the book for what would become an extended stay, with several more recordings made within the next 5 years. While only one Evans original appears here (a gorgeous take on “Turn out the Stars”), there is also a quiet version of Earl Zindars’ “Mother of Earl”, a piece that no one but Evans recorded during the pianist’s lifetime. Three songs appear in both sets: “Emily”, “Yesterdays” and “Round Midnight”, and the versions reveal great differences in both the solos and the general rhythmic feel of the group (as intimated above, the second set is generally more relaxed than the first, and the recording sequence seems to show the trio gradually settling into the evening’s groove).
As with Resonance’s historic Wes Montgomery album, the Bill Evans set comes with extensive liner notes, featuring contributions from several authors and musicians. The Evans set booklet effectively establishes the mood of the time with vintage photographs and advertisements from the trio’s Top of the Gate appearance. Unlike some earlier Evans “discoveries”, Resonance’s set truly adds important music to the Bill Evans discography. Let’s hope that George Klabin releases many more recorded treasures in the near future.
There have been many posthumous releases featuring various Bill Evans trios since the pianist's death in 1980, but Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate is a cut above most of them for several reasons.
First, it documents Evans' trio with bassist Eddie Gomez (who had been playing with him since 1966) and drummer Marty Morell in the early weeks of this band's existence.
Secondly, the session engineer, George Klabin, got permission from Evans' manager Helen Keane to record the performances for his radio show. Though he didn't get an opportunity to do a soundcheck prior to the start of the gig, his excellent mike placement and adjustments on the fly capture the intimacy of the trio, without distortion and with very little chatter from the often noisy Manhattan crowds of the late '60s.
Finally, the interpretations of several of the songs, all known to fans familiar with Evans' repertoire, in several cases represent an early live trio recording or one of the earliest recordings of certain songs. The fact that the trio was new matters little, the chemistry developed quickly between the three musicians as a unit and Evans is buoyed by Gomez's inventive bass lines (it's little wonder he remained with the pianist for over 11 years), and Morell's light touch on drums and subtle brushwork.
Several of the numbers are repeated in both sets, including driving takes of "Yesterdays," melodically rich treatments of "'Round Midnight," and two buoyant renditions of "Emily." Evans' fans will delight in his introspective, somewhat disguised arrangement of "California, Here I Come," the dazzling workout of "Autumn Leaves," and the magical romp through "Someday My Prince Will Come." If the music isn't enough, the detailed liner notes as to how the recordings came to be made, along with commentary by Nat Hentoff, Gary Burton, Eddie Gomez, Marty Morell, and others, in addition to period photographs of the artists and the club's interior, make it a complete package, not some carelessly packaged collection of previously unknown performances.
One can only hope that Resonance label owner George Klabin recorded many other shows at the Top of the Gate and is able to gain the rights to issue them. This two-album set will be considered essential by Bill Evans collectors.