The Warner Bros. boxed set Turn Out the Stars enjoyed a certain enviable double distinction. The set captured the last (and last great) Bill Evans trio in the very club where the first great Evans trio (with Paul Motian and the much lamented young Scott LaFaro) recorded the live albums that would alter the state of the piano trio immeasurably. It was also, until now (and ignoring sketchy Japanese releases), the last official recording of the Bill Evans Trio. With The Last Waltz, Evans's subsequent performance at San Francisco's Keystone Korner, Milestone trumps Warner Bros.
When musicians such as Evans attain the rank of demigod, it isn't at all unusual for a record company to release any scraps it can find. With Evans, however, sets like this are easily justifiable. The relatively new trio -- including young bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbara -- sparked the pianist into an exuberance that had been missing from his playing for years. Evans stacks his originals ("Letter to Evan," "Turn Out the Stars") alongside favorite standards ("Autumn Leaves") and some surprising recent additions (Paul Simon's "I Do It for Your Love"). Though he isn't always in top form, he's bursting with ideas on every tune and takes quite a few more risks than he had in the previous decade. Evans would not complete another club run after this one. Hepatitis and heavy drug use had all but scraped out his insides, and he had stopped eating anything but candy. Before the end of the month, he would be dead. It was amazing enough that Evans could even approach this level of playing, considering his health and personal tragedy. It's all the more bittersweet hearing him with a group that so obviously enlivened his playing.