The Final Recordings, Part 2: Live at the Keystone Korner, September 1980
Consecration, the final recordings of Bill Evans, is the companion piece to The Last Waltz, released on Milestone in 2000. Like that earlier collection, this one is an eight-CD boxed set, with the vastly influential pianist (and highly underrated composer)—in the company of his extraordinarily supportive colleagues, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbera—captured live at the now-shuttered Keystone Korner, San Francisco, Aug.31-Sept. 7, 1980. Though Evans, long in poor health, was grievously ill at the time—and would die on Sept. 15, 1980, in New York—his playing throughout these performances is strong, sure, and utterly vibrant. (None of the performances herein duplicate those heard on The Last Waltz; these have never been previously issued in the )
In Consecration’s booklet essay, Robert L. Deerschuk quotes drummer LaBarbera, who recalls: "Marc and I were fully aware that Bill was in bad shape. Bill was fully aware that Bill was in bad shape. But once he was on the bandstand and started playing, the man would transcend his physical limitations, even though I don’t know how." A significant factor in Evans’s rising to the occasion as he neared the end was, of course, the emphatic presence of his young bandmates. The pianist had proudly noted on several occasions that his last trio was the very best he’d led since his first working group, the 1959-1961 unit featuring the late bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. In their uniquely quiet way, Evans, LaFaro, and Motian entirely revolutionized the concept of the piano-bass-drums ensemble. Evans, Johnson, and LaBarbera continued in the one-for-all-and-all-for-one tradition, then upped the ante by going for a more aggressive, somewhat less introspective approach.
While Evans’s signature harmonically probing balladry is indeed in evidence throughout Consecration’s seven-and-a-half hours of sublime music, the pianist’s legion of fans and admirers recognized that he was moving in a looser, more propulsive direction, but one that was entirely in the service of creative music-making—always the number one priority.
Consecration’s eight sets contain 68 performances of 24 different tunes. As was Evans’s wont, the repertoire primarily reflects his ongoing interest in the American Popular Song and its forms, and composers from Jerome Kern to Paul Simon. The pianist also contributes nine originals, most of them written during his later years. Consecration will, among its many attributes, only add to Evans’s reputation as a first rate compositional thinker. We already knew that he was one of the absolute greatest improvising pianists who ever lived.