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April 21, 1996|Don Heckman

Bill Evans and Stan Getz, two of the most lyrical, most subtly swinging improvisers in post-bebop jazz, almost never recorded together. Their single studio outing, for Verve in 1964, was so unsuccessful--at least in their minds--that they contractually asked the company not to release the album. (It was, even so, issued in 1973 as "Stan Getz & Bill Evans," little more than a footnote to a pair of hall of fame jazz careers.)

In 1974, they played together again at concerts in the Netherlands and Belgium. The results, this time, were far better, and this CD, the only other recording of the duo performing in tandem, provides a fascinating portrait of two superb jazz players at work.

Like the Verve album, however, it too is tinged with traces of what was clearly a bumpy relationship.

On one tune, "Stan's Blues," which Getz apparently sprung on the trio without benefit of a rehearsal, Evans plays briefly behind the opening theme, then pointedly drops out for the balance of the number. Getz then makes what appears to be a musical gesture of apology by spontaneously offering a strain of "Happy Birthday to You," in celebration of Evans' 45th birthday, at the beginning of "You and the Night and the Music."

But there is an important difference from the Verve album, as well. In this case, the musical parrying and sparring that takes place between the two is more intriguing than it is distracting, in part because it provokes such fine playing from both musicians. Listen, for example, to Evans' hard-driving, no-nonsense solo on "Funkallero," and Getz's warmly conversational, but never effusive, rendering of "Emily." And on one track, a Getz-Evans duet, Jimmy Rowles' lovely "The Peacocks" is given an atmospheric reading that can best be described as a classic jazz performance.

Other tracks do not work quite so well. Getz was never especially pleased with the persistent image of himself as a "cool" player. Often, no doubt in an effort to demonstrate his brawnier qualities, he pushed his improvising beyond its comfortable limits. The result, which surfaces from time to time in a few of the tracks here, is an aggressive upper register sound that bursts out of his horn like a belligerent yelp.

Evans, on the other hand, seems somewhat cautious and overly laid-back in places as he tries to find a balance between his precise harmonic lyricism and Getz's free-ranging blowing.

Call it an uneven program, then, alternating between delightful moments of sheer inspiration and passages of intermittent musical friction. Fortunately, since it is the only real opportunity to hear Evans and Getz together in performances that both approved, the inspiration easily outweighs the friction.

Two other Getz recordings, both reissues from Verve, have also been released. "Stan Getz Boss Nova" (3 stars) includes a sampling of the tenor saxophonist's bossa nova recordings from the early '60s. The most appealing are those that feature the guitar and vocals of Joa~o Gilberto ("So Danco Samba," "Desafinado" and "The Girl From Ipanema," among others). But there also are some attractive passages in Gary McFarland's big-band arrangements of "Manha de Carnaval" and "Chega de Saudade."

"Stan Meets Chet" (3 stars for Getz performance, just 1 for Baker) is a less propitious encounter, the first of their two albums together (the second came 25 years later). It chronicles a 1958 Chicago studio date with Chet Baker that was basically little more than a blowing session (with a tinny, out of tune piano) on standards such as "I'll Remember April," "Autumn in New York" and the chord changes to "Cherokee."

Getz nearly saves the day with a succession of surging choruses, swinging vigorously in tempos both fast and slow. But Baker, clearly not at the top of his form, missing notes left and right, is overmatched, unable to keep up with Getz's teeming energy and fertile imagination.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good, recommended) and four stars (excellent).

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