The concept behind Twin Bill, Alan Pasqua's new album for BFM Jazz, is right there in the titlethere's nothing ambiguous about it. Bill Evans was my hero," says the artist, and, with that as a starting point, Pasqua has embraced a handful of pieces composed by or associated with the transformative jazz pianist, added in a rearranged traditional tune and an original, and topped it all off with an indisputable classic that ties the music in with the other love of his life.
Pasqua explains: As a kid growing up in New Jersey, there were two things I was passionate about. Baseball and Bill Evans...well, three, pizza. The first time I heard Bill Evans I was 12 years old. It was the solo piano intro of Miles Davis' 'On Green Dolphin Street.' I was floored. I had never heard anything like it. I had already been playing piano for five years, studying classically and also picking up jazz on my own. My dad was a bassist, so there were big band records, Sinatra records, Oscar Peterson Trio records. My brother played piano, so I watched and listened. I was into all of it. When I heard Bill Evans, it turned me upside down. It sounded and felt almost classical in a way, yet I knew the chords were not. His touch was beautiful, impressionistic and crystal clear. It just seemed like everything he did was so perfect, so organic, so much a real part of the music he was playing. I was hooked. Like the first time I saw Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. They were my heroes, and now, Bill Evans was my hero."
That explains the Bill" part of the title, but what about the Twin"? That's an easy one too. Rather than play conventional piano solos, for Twin Bill Pasqua doubles up, one piano in each channel, effectively collaborating with himself on a series of Evans-inspired duets. That's itno other musicians; just Alan Pasqua honoring his hero with stimulating, compelling readings and a few additional pieces in the Evans mode, including the beloved American anthem Take Me Out to the Ballgame." It's a rare artist who could even come up with the idea of making over something as familiar as that in the image of one of the acknowledged trailblazers of jazz, let alone turn it into something so fresh and gripping.
But it's one thing to find inspiration in a musical genius, and another completely to reimagine that artist's iconic works and author new music that doesn't mimic but instead draws from that genius' creations. Alan Pasqua is certainly up to the task. For Twin Bill, he channels his passion for Evans into something wholly original, by applying his own voice to distinctive interpretations of the music that long ago made such an impact on him.
Since the beginning of his career, Alan Pasqua has continually taken on new challenges. At a young age he cut his teeth in the Tony Williams Lifetime with the legendary jazz drummer, and during the course of his extensive career he has worked not only with such jazz giants as Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian, Dave Holland, Michael and Randy Brecker,
Joe Henderson, Stanley Clarke, Gary Burton, James Moody, Gary Peacock, Gary Bartz, Reggie Workman, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Sheila Jordan and Joe Williams, but also such rock and R&B titans as Bob Dylan, Santana, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Queen Latifah. He has released many previous albums as a leader, in various configurations, recorded extensively in the area of film scores, and in 2008, he joined forces with Peter Erskine and Dave Carpenter, arranging, co-producing and playing on the Grammy Award nominated trio album Standards.
Despite his impressive résumé, Twin Bill, in its austerity, imagination and unfettered beauty, may just be Pasqua's crowning achievement to date. On the Evans compositions Very Early," Time Remembered," Turn Out the Stars," Funkallero," Interplay" and Walkin' Up," Pasqua digs to the core of the melodies and then proceeds to find his own way. He tackles Nardis," a song written by Miles Davis and made famous by Evans, with a sprightly lilt, and approaches Gloria's Step," penned by Scott LaFaro, the late, amazing bassist who worked with Evans, as a ruminative meditation. Pasqua's own Grace," which closes the set, is appropriately tranquil and contemplative, in the Bill Evans tradition but not bound by it. And Vindarna Sucka Uti Skogarna," an obscure traditional song that appeared on a 1964 album that paired the Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund with the Evans Trio, is here in an elegiac, melancholic version that soothes the soul.
For Pasqua, choosing the material and formulating arrangements was not a task to take lightly. When I started recording this project, it was then that I realized how complex it was going to be," he says in the liner notes. Partly, it was the issue of two pianos. Frankly, sometimes, one piano is one too many for me. So, I had to find a way to play without wearing the listener (me) out. Orchestrating the pianos not to conflict and fight to be heard, but rather to peacefully coexist on every composition was my priority.
As I began to work with Bill Evans' songs, I was constantly reminded of what a genius composer he was," he continues. His songs can be deceptively simple to the ear and yet as elusive as a butterfly to the mind. I always felt that Bill Evans had a wonderful sense of humor. He was not afraid to let it show in his music. I hope you enjoy this great music of Bill Evans."
It would be impossible not to, given the heart and soul that went into Twin Bill.