Record Store Day… or National Bill Evans Day? Unreleased Vintage Jazz Live Sets Highlight RSD

·9-min read

There are a few artists who’ve been flagship artists for Record Store Day in its 15 years of existence — among them, the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band and David Bowie, all of whom have had multiple exclusive LP releases for RSD — but maybe none have seemed quite so synonymous with the day as jazz piano great Bill Evans. And Resonance Records, the archival label that has been behind the wave of live Evans releases, is doubling down on the legend this weekend with twin titles, “Morning Glory” and “Inner Spirit,” both recorded in Buenos Aires in the 1970s but never officially released until now.

As with all the previous Resonance Evans titles before them, this pair of double-LPs is not likely to last a full day in stock at most of the indie music shops that have ordered it. Which is hardly to say the music will vaporize: A CD release of both albums will follow just a week later, versus the previous month-long window that Evans fans used to have to wait for a wide release of the sets. But the hardcore want the very limited vinyl versions and will be rubbing elbows in line this weekend with all the Taylor Swifties out to land her exclusive release.

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Still, there’s even more up the sleeve of Zev Feldman, the co-president of Resonance (with founder George Klabin) and the noted “jazz detective” for the great lengths he goes to to find and buy rights to tapes that have been held underground for years. With Resonance or another label he works with, Elemental Records, Feldman has three more collections coming out Saturday in addition to the Evans albums: the Chet Baker Trio’s “Live in Paris”; Albert Ayler’s “Revelations,” a five-LP boxed set; and Charles Mingus’ “The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott’s,” a three-LP set. None of these was turned around quickly to get in on some kind of perceived 2022 boom: Feldman says he’s been working on the Mingus collection with the musician’s estate in some capacity for 11 years.

Even for anyone who plans to sleep in, wait a week and buy any of these releases on CD at leisure, April is a sweet month to be a classic jazz fan.

“This is the most monumental Record Store Day for me yet,” says Feldman, who’s never put five releases into the market at one time before. “I’ve been working on these projects for the last couple years, and it’s fitting to have them all out on the 15th anniversary of RSD. These are all very important and really cover all ends of the jazz music spectrum to appeal to different audiences.”

For some years, Feldman was of different minds about how big a window to leave between the limited vinyl and unlimited CD versions of the covetable albums they release. Eventually some experimentation led to the realization that in almost all cases the vinyl will disappear in a flash regardless of whether the music will be out digitally practically a minute later.

“We really appreciate the folks at RSD for allowing us to also release these projects on CD and digital,” Feldman says. “The reality is that each LP will ship sold out and be gone right away. Then we’ll shift gears and focus on the CD and digital sales opportunities. I want to make sure people are able to get their hands on this music one way or another. All the press stories generate a lot of excitement, and it’s not a lot of fun if people have to wait a month to get the CD. I like to remind people that brick and mortar retail need our help all year round to sell CDs as well as LPs.”

He adds, “We’re still not putting these albums up for streaming right away, and usually like to wait a while as part of our methodology. The physical sales allow us to recoup on the mammoth investment of these projects with all the love and attention we pour on them. These projects are massive undertakings for labels, and we’re just eternally grateful to RSD, as their passion and support allows a lot of these projects to see the light of day that otherwise might be too risky to embark on.”

Of what has turned out to be Resonance’s unofficial flagship artist, Feldman says, “It’s really exciting to know that we’ve made a difference, thanks to the Record Store Day organization, in being able to elevate Bill Evans’ profile so high. It just worked out that way. There has been an abundancy of projects, and we’ve been able to harness the RSD vehicle to bring them to the marketplace. He toured the world and played concerts for many, many years. Fortunately, lots of his concerts have been documented at a high quality, providing us with a golden opportunity to build something special with Rolls Royce quality. I hope people will keep coming back.”

The extensive liner notes on the Evans projects include interviews with all the surviving musicians from the two trios represented (Evans himself died in 1980, but Eddie Gomez, Marty Morell, Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera live and speak on), as well as essays or chats with historians and fellow piano greats (like Richie Beirach and Enrico Pieranunzi). The writers and interviewees note the unusual circumstances of the two Buenos Aires concerts, which took place in 1973 and 1979. Both took place during especially volatile periods of turmoil in Argentina, which is purported to have had an effect on the audience’s moods, if not the musicians’. (Both shows have also been bootlegged before, Feldman notes, but not at this level of quality — and obviously not with the musicians or their survivors being paid.)

The ’73 concert in particular has some oddities to it: Due to its last minute-nature, it took place with minimal setup in a cavernous, freezing cold historic theater at which everyone involved had to wear overcoats… and at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m. Not anyone’s idea of a prototypical jazz setting, but attendees swore it was one of the greatest concerts they’d ever seen, and the often encore-eschewing Evans succumbed to the raucous good will and returned to the stage three times.

The music never starts out at a climactic level. “Bill Evans knew how to play to his audience, in addition to playing for himself and creating the music as he envisioned,” says Zeldman. “Looking at a lot of his recordings, there’s a beauty and subtlety. It doesn’t need to be a big flash right out of the gate. Evans has the ability to bring an audience to their hands and knees, and it’s apparent by way the audiences responded.”

Generally speaking, he adds of Evans, “He’s one of the great musicians and jazz composers of the 20th century, and his music transcends generations and audiences. There’s something to be said about the beauty and uniqueness of his music. I’m grateful that people are making these discoveries for themselves. There’s always that instance when you hear an artist for the first time and it captivates you. I think we’ve been able to accomplish that feeling for a lot of new and old Bill Evans fans for RSD.”

Feldman isn’t wanting his other releases to get lost in Saturday’s Evans gold rush, of course, and that’s unlikely given the iconic caliber of everyone represented.

He elaborates on the others, staring with Mingus’ “The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott’s,” which won’t be mistaken for an Evans-style trio record. “It features saxophonists Charles McPherson and Bobby Jones, trumpeter Jon Faddis, pianist John Foster and drummer Roy Brooks. These shows were professionally recorded by a mobile 8-track recording truck for a future release that never materialized, until now. For the booklet, we have notes from acclaimed British author Brian Priestley, who attended these concerts in 1972 and interviewed Mingus and McPherson backstage during the run, which we’ve included excerpts of in the booklet. I also interviewed social commentator and writer Fran Lebowitz, bass icons Christian McBride and Eddie Gomez, and Charles McPherson for the booklet. Serious Mingus fans don’t have this recording. It’s also a celebration of Mingus’ centennial, as he was born on April 22, 1922.”

Ayler is perhaps more of an acquired taste for the vaster public, but lots of acquisition will be happening with his set, one of two on the Elemental label this year “The Albert Ayler complete Fondation Maeght recordings from 1970 is a very personal project for me,” Feldman says. “I carried those tapes on my back for years looking for a label, until I luckily connected with the good folks at Elemental Music in Barcelona. They had a relationship, as did I, working with the folks at Ina France, who oversee the radio and TV archives of the French government. The Ayler set was captured in glorious stereo by the ORTF and contain over two hours of previously unissued music. We beat the bootleggers and presented all the music the way it happened back in July of 1970, just a short while before he died. This is the first official release of the complete recordings in the original sequence, and as far as I know the only time all the musicians and rights holders have been paid.” Fans and associates who contributed to the liner notes as writers or interviewees speak to the breadth of the adventuresome musician’s following, including jazz and rock figures Carlos Santana, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Carla Bley, John Zorn, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, David Murray, Joe Lovano, Bill Laswell, Reggie Workman, James Brandon Lewis, Patty Waters, Annette Peacock, Marc Ribot and Zoh Amba.

And the Baker title, also for Elemental, represents a first-time collaboration with the estate of one of jazz’s primary figures. “These are not just any Chet Baker recordings, but superb live performances that capture an important of part of Baker’s career, arguably in his third act, that were well-recorded and had never been bootlegged. These are recordings from 1983 and 1984 captured by Radio France… featuring trios of trumpet/vocals, with the late Parisian pianist Michele Grallier and bassists Riccardo Del Fra and Dominique Lamerle. These unique trio settings allowed Baker to really stretch out in wonderful ways. Of course we paid all the musicians, and curated an unbelievable package with liner notes by Ashley Kahn, Franck Bergerot and Pascal Rozat, plus interviews with the living sidemen, bassists Riccardo Del Fra and Dominique Lemerle, and former Baker pianist Richie Beirach.”

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