Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Band That Could Have Been?

I don't think there were any solid plans to ever bring together Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Zoot Sims, Ron Carter and Philly Joe Jones in a working band, but wouldn't that assemblage of like-minded players have been something to experience? A tantalizing taste of what could have been can be found on the handful of tracks that this ad-hoc quintet recorded in 1962. Evans rarely employed a horn (be it saxophone, trumpet or, in that very special case, harmonica, as played by Toots Theilemans on the 1978 Affinity album) for his own recording sessions. Although there are numerous examples of his inspired interaction with horn men throughout his early career, by the time he starting running the show in 1959, Evans was loath to bring in extra artillery. And for good reason; apart from Affinity, few of his albums featuring expanded ensembles really comes off. Evans had refined the trio format to a fine art and interlopers seemed to upset the calibrated balance. Something tells me he was also a creature of habit who enjoyed the comfort zone of the compact threesome.
This session, unreleased at the time, is a noteworthy exception. Sims is the perfect saxophonist for Evans, a lyrical, melody-obsessed improviser who mates a gorgeous tone with virile, yet always relaxed, swing. And, as an older stylist who grew up worshipping at the altars of Lester Young and Ben Webster, Sims was anything but a frenetic hard bopper. Although obviously touched by bop, Sim's closest allegiance was to the rhythmic verities of the swing era, a grounded approach that suits Evans well.
Could this band have existed outside the controlled walls of a recording studio? Considering that -- as far as I know -- Carter was the only ensemble member who wasn't either plagued by drugs, drink or both, the chances of success might have been slim. Let's just be thankful we've got what we've got and cherish it.
The seven tunes (one in two takes) can be found on the album Loose Blues.

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