Further Explorations is a sprawling, career-spanning retrospective of music composed by, played by or just inspired by the iconoclastic pianist. Culled form live performances over two weeks at the famed Blue Note Jazz Club in New York, a cast like this would never be content to merely play Bill Evans tunes in the same way as they were played when Motian and later, Gomez were in his trios. As Bob Belden observed in his liner notes: Rather than approach the music as a 'tribute,' it became clear that the operative word was 'template.' Tabula rasa."
It becomes far more interesting than a mere tribute to, for example, use this occasion to find where Corea's own style owes a debt to Evans and where it doesn't. Corea's position as the person who is replacing" Evans draws attention to how close will he play it like the late legend. Clearly, Corea is playing it his way, with no discernable moments where he is deliberately stepping out of his character to slip into Evans.' Evans special gift of totally inhabiting a melody and teasing out the richest parts of it has found its way into Corea's style, as evidenced on the more whimsical songs like Very Early" and Alice In Wonderland," but while Evans tended toward gentle passion in most instances, Corea will often go off in sharp diversions and, well, explorations further out. Thelonius Monk's Little Rootie Tootie," Corea's self-explanatory Another Samba" and his esoteric Rhapsody" typify harmonic approaches more associated with Corea than with Evans. His own Evan tribute Bill Evans" splits the difference in the two styles. A melancholy tune but with a non-linear melody, Corea actually composed this beatiful, somewhat dark tune while Evans was still living.
One Evans hallmark that Corea follows consistently is to put his rhythm section up front; from Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes to Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard, Corea could always find room for the bassist and drummer to gain equal footing without having to withdraw from from his own virtuosity. And you really can't deny guys like Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian from doing what they do better than most anybody else.
Both Gomez and Motian have gone on to become major figures in jazz in their own right. Both have even developed further after leaving Evans' combo; Motian in particular has advanced his style and his manipulations of cymbals with an open snare is his signature, while Gomez's legendary lyricism seems more expressive than even before.
Motian's exclusive ability to groove with such a loose but discreetly precise timbres is on display right form beginning, on an Evans composition first introduced with Motian in 1959, Peri's Scope." The group improvisation Off The Cuff" is right down his alley, absorbing and reacting to Corea's cues and eventually taking charge himself.
In an all-star band of equals, Gomez is often afforded the most space. He puts in a devine, Scott Lafaro-derived solo for LaFaro's Gloria Step," but also begins Alice" a cappella and does the same for Turn Out The Stars" and But Beautiful," except for these occasions, it's with a bow. But also listen in to his dexterous bass-walking behind Corea on They Say Falling In Love Is Wonderful," which goes hand in hand with Corea's crisp, flowing lines.
Most of the time, though, it's about all three playing together so well. Tadd Dameron's Hot House" sizzles and swings with everyone playing with a bounce in their step. Very Early" waltzes with the nuance and grace of Evans' own bands because everyone is so in tune with each other. Song No. 1" is a recently discovered Evans compositions Evans himself never recorded or performed in public. Corea, Gomez and Motian played it straight" from Corea's transciption at the beginning of their Blue Note engagement, and it eventually evolved to the fully flowered version you hear on this album.
Just as Orrin Keepnews felt fortunate to get the Evans-LaFaro-Motian trio recorded live before the trio was no more, so are we lucky to have this special union of Corea-Gomez-Motian while it was still possible. Motian's death last November assured that this engagement was a fleeting one. But what better way to honor the artistry of Bill Evans than with the artistry of three giant figures in jazz whom he deeply inspired.