1979 was an undeniably heavy year for Evans, with his brother’s suicide and his cocaine dependency hitting a pivotal high, yet he still managed perform this set in Paris in perhaps his strongest trio, seeing Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. With his death on the horizon and his voluntary discontinuation of hepatitis treatment fresh, it didn’t seem to phase him. This Paris concert, especially this first CD, saw Evans at possibly his very best.
You can’t talk about a jazz trio record without discussing the interdependence between each member, and it’s safe to say that these three work with and off each other with such fluidity that it really is unbelievable that Evans had probably railed three lines off the toilet seat in the back room before the show. LaBarbera’s brushed snare and ride carry Evans’ leading solos to divulge some seriously cool timbres, melding with the lethargic and clean strokes of Johnson’s bass.
On the opening “I Do It for Your Love”, Evans dances with complicated lines that twist and bedazzle around the theme with intricate ad lib embroidery, giving way to the lustrous “Quiet Now” which illuminates LaBarbera percussive drive with the bass drum and toms juxtaposing the “quiet” title as Evans swings with newfound energy and sway. “Noelle’s Theme” solidifies Evans as a pianist who can easily carry himself without aid of a rhythm section, masquerading between all volumes of his piano’s strings to elucidate the sheer amount of contextual emotion he must have kept hidden within every melancholic tone at the time.
Standout track, “My Romance”, sees the pace skyrocket and each member have time to prove why the trio could’ve been one of the best to surround the man on the keys. The synergy between LaBarbera and Johnson as they intertwine solos is masterful and continue to shine behind Evans as the peak of his high got those fingers moving beyond the slothful premise of the early stages of the concert. “Up With the Lark” displays Johnson almost outplaying Evans as they twist around each other with the bass sometimes supporting, providing soloing competition and the occasional duet. I’d imagine LaBarbera would have felt pretty left out seeing the two in such symbiosis. Ending with another ode to connection on “Beautiful Love”, the speed is once again accelerated in a staggering showcase of all parties, spotlighting LaBarbera’s solos and fills to illuminate the closer whilst Evans swings with effortless sophistication. What a way to finish.
The enthusiastic crowd just adds the energy and the intimacy of the whole album, politely clapping with the occasional (respectful) hoot to ultimately drive the wow-factor of the performance. Evans and the gang deserved such a reception, as The Paris Concert is undoubtedly one of the greatest live representations of jazz in its coolest form.