By Emily Carney
By 1962, jazz pianist Bill Evans was emotionally bereft by the car crash death of his bassist, Scott LaFaro. Indeed he was so devastated, he wouldn’t perform for months. He was already in the grips of a powerful addiction to heroin, which he wouldn’t overcome until the end of the 1960s; however, this addiction would be replaced by another: cocaine. No one was shocked by Evans’s death in September 1980, characterized by one of his peers as “the longest suicide in history.”
After LaFaro’s death, Evans had reformed his trio, adding new bassist Chuck Israels. While Evans and his distinctive style of piano playing—hunched directly over the keys—may be a ghost in the machine, this reissue of 1962′s Moon Beams takes the listener back to his melancholy brilliance.
The whole album is composed of jazz piano ballads and is beautifully expressive of the sorrow Evans was feeling at the time, due to the loss of his close friend and colleague. “Re: Person I Knew” is the album’s opening track, which hearkens back to memories of a fallen brother-in-music.
The album’s title—and standout—track is “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” probably the only instrumental which has ever moved me to tears. It has the elegiac feeling of saying goodbye to a loved one and reminds one of the weepy, wistful feelings one gets at 6:00 a.m. after a long night of looking at old photographs. The whole album is reminiscent of the sad, relentless morning light associated with insomnia and thinking too hard about the past.
This reissue by Concord Music Group also contains rawer, alternate takes of “Polka Dots and Moon Beams,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” and “Very Early.” Even the album’s cover possesses its own ghost: The cover model, smiling vapidly with blonde hair and glossy pink lips, is future Velvet Underground singer and heroin casualty Christa Päffgen—otherwise known as Nico.
This reissue of Moon Beams is an essential addition to anyone’s jazz collection—for longtime Evans fans and jazz newcomers alike.