Moon Beams was the first recording Bill Evans made after the death of his musical right arm, bassist Scott LaFaro. Indeed, in LaFaro, Evans found a counterpart rather than a sideman, and the music they made together over four albums showed it. Bassist Chuck Israels from Cecil Taylor and Bud Powell's bands took his place in the band with Evans and drummer Paul Motian and Evans recorded the only possible response to the loss of LaFaro -- an album of ballads.
The irony on this recording is that, despite material that was so natural for Evans to play, particularly with his trademark impressionistic sound collage style, is that other than as a sideman almost ten years before, he has never been more assertive than on Moon Beams. It is as if, with the death of LaFaro, Evans' safety net was gone and he had to lead the trio alone. And he does first and foremost by abandoning the impressionism in favor of a more rhythmic and muscular approach to harmony.
The set opens with an Evans original, "RE: Person I Knew," a modal study that looks back to his days he spent with Miles Davis. There is perhaps the signature jazz rendition of "Stairway to the Stars," with its loping yet halting melody line and solo that is heightened by Motian's gorgeous brush accents in the bridge section. Other selections are so well paced and sequenced the record feels like a dream, with the lovely stuttering arpeggios that fall in "If You Could See Me Now," and the cascading interplay between Evan's chords and Israel's punctuation in "It Might as Well Be Spring," a tune Evans played for the rest of his life.
The set concludes with a waltz in "Very Early," that is played at that proper tempo with great taste and delicate elegance throughout, there is no temptation by the rhythm section to charge it up or to elongate the harmonic architecture by means of juggling intervals. Moon Beams was a startling return to the recording sphere and a major advancement in his development as a leader.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
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