“Playtime” Plays Bill Evans. Edinburgh, January 2015.

The “Playtime” sessions at the Outhouse in Edinburgh are back for the new year, switching to alternate weeks, and seeming to pick up a larger audience in the process.

The first session of the year was a trio of Martin Kershaw, Graeme Stephen, and guest bassist Tom Lyne. A very enjoyable evening of inventive improvisation, Lyne bringing a bit more of a folk influence.

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Graeme Stephen. At a different “Playtime” gig.

The second gig last week was back to the core Playtime quartet – Kershaw on saxes, Stephen on guitar, Mario Caribe on bass and Tom Bancroft on drums. And it was a somewhat different prospect: an evening dedicated to the music of pianist Bill Evans.

Evans is one of my favorite musicians, though I sometimes feel a little goes a long way. So I was curious, and perhaps more than a little anxious, about how would work: Bill Evans, without a piano. Still, one of my favorite “Bill Evans” albums is Cannonball Adderley’s “Know What I Mean?”, with Evans on piano and Adderley’s lovely alto over the top. And John McLaughlin’s beautiful reminiscence of Evans, “Time Remembered”, didn’t have a piano on it; indeed, out doesn’t have anything but guitar. Kershaw also has a good record with pianists – last summer he lead a band playing the music of Lennie Tristano.

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Martin Kershaw. At a different “Playtime” gig.

From the very start, any doubts I had were allayed. There was something in the opening chords played by Graeme Stephen played that just said “Bill Evans!” A soft, plangent quality, gently ringing before the band came in. It just fitted.

Across two sets, the quartet played lots of familiar tunes, and a couple of less familiar ones, too. There was perhaps less free improvisation than usual, the musicians focusing on the music’s melodic qualities.

It was a lovely gig, an opportunity to reassess Evans’ music from different periods in a way one wouldn’t do normally. More, please.

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Tom Bancroft. At a different “Playtime” gig.

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