Tribute to Bill Evans with Nikki Iles and Cecilia Stalin at the 606 Club (2015 EFG LJF)

Tribute to Bill Evans with Nikki Iles and Cecilia Stalin
(606 Club. 21st November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)

“It all started with Bill Evans”, Nikki Iles has been heard to say when reflecting on her own voyage of discovery through jazz. Like so many pianists, Evans’ approach has left a faint trace in her own distinctive sound at the keyboard, so when Steve Rubie wanted to stage a tribute to the late legend as part of the 606 Club’s London Jazz festival programme, who better to call?

The club was full to bursting as the evening started with a trio (what else?), Dave Whitford in the bass chair and Tristan Mailliot on drums plunging into the spirit of three-way interaction that Evans embraced. B Minor Waltz took shape out of some impressionistic shimmers, momentum and intensity growing out of the conversation as Iles stretched out for the first time. Nardis had a modern twist to it with a more overtly modal vibe decorated with darting bass figures, Spring is Here as lush ballad hushed the club.

Club boss Rubie and Iles had conspired to bring more to the tribute than a trio however. The band began to expand and new aspects of Evans began to appear. First, guitarist Mike Outram took the stand and the repertoire became more of launch pad for new explorations. Funkalero, also given an extra twist with an added theme of Iles own, provoked a gutsy solo from the guest to whoops from all round and Danny Boy acquired a new tinge with singing guitar and a gentle groove.

The introduction of Swedish singer Cecilia Stalin heralded a celebration of a collaboration that even Evans enthusiasts may have known less about, that of the pianist and Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund (1937-2005), remembered for many things, among which were being a regrettable Swedish entry for the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest, in which she came last. Lucky to be Me and Maybe September gave us a chance to hear Stalin’s warm toned, swinging vibe mesh with the band as they drew on repertoire from the 1964 album Evans and Zetterlund recorded, Waltz for Debby. After the break Stalin sang the title track with the lyric in Swedish (Monicas Vals) and then the band, having been joined by saxophonist Julian Nicholas, shifted gears and cut loose on a traditional Swedish tune, know in English as Old Stockholm, Stalin gliding and swooping over the groove and Nicholas pulling out an emotional soaring solo on soprano.

A quintet, rounded out the evening (Outram returning on guitar), Show-type Tune and Interplay vehicles for them to pump up the energy further. This was a tribute to Bill Evans, but there was nothing dusty or restrained about the performance. A top class group of musicians reminded us that Evans’ music remains both something to re-visit and enjoy, but also a continuing source of inspiration and ideas for new and fresh music.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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