Bill Evans (sax): The Alternative Man
The Alternative Man
Bill Evans (sax)
The Alternative Man (Blue Note CDP 7 46336 2)
Composed by Bill Evans.
Recorded: New York, January-May 1985
Rating: 94/100 (learn more)
As I write this in late 2008, Bill Evans (sax) is enjoying a good career playing music he calls "soulgrass." This style is a combination of jazz, fusion and newgrass music, née "bluegrass." It is not my particular cup of tea, I must say. But he seems to be enjoying it and the commercial rewards are larger. That's the perfect storm for any musician. More power to him. But I do miss the old Bill Evans (sax). That would be the one who filled his albums with one ingratiating jazz-rock melody after another and gathered the best musicians to play them.
The Alternative Man came out in 1986. Evans (sax) was one of the few fusion players of the day who helped keep the genre alive. He led a series of outstanding jazz-rock albums that featured such wonderful musicians as Mitchel Forman, Clifford Carter, Mark Egan, Dennis Chambers and others. These players were literally fusion's life-support system through the end of the decade.
"The Alternative Man" is a whirling number. Evans plays the head in unison with Forman's synthesizer as Danny Gottlieb's electronic drums flail away underneath. Electric percussion can really sound artificial and, over time, dated. On this cut the electronic drums are used mostly for punctuation rather than for timekeeping. So it's okay that they sound artificial; they are just another effect. Anyhow, what a joy it is to hear Evans (sax), Forman and guitarist Jeff Golub tackle this composition. They go at it tooth and nail in unison, in tandem, in counterpoint and in calls and responses. I don't want to overlook bassist Mark Egan. His fretless bass work became a signature sound on many jazz-rock recordings of this period.
Altogether, the ensemble collected for this superior cut included some of the best fusion players on the planet at the time. "The Alternative Man" is a performance that validates my previous sentence.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky