Wollf, Clark and Dorsey – A letter to Bill Evans (ENG review)

Jazz Avenue 1 – Street Date March 8th 2024
Wollf, Clark and Dorsey – A letter to Bill Evans

“A Letter to Bill Evans” features pianist Michael Wolff, bassist Leon Lee Dorsey, and drummer Mike Clark on a generous and vibrant tribute album. This album is undoubtedly an adventure for the three comrades. Before tackling it, many questions naturally arose. Convincing Wolff to fill this crucial piano chair on the project was the final touch, even though he was somewhat hesitant at first. “Leon had been talking to me about doing a Bill Evans album for a while, but I always pushed it aside. Bill was so important to me musically and personally that I hesitated to dive into his music. But after the pandemic, I decided that I might as well make all the music I have the opportunity to make, so we recorded a few three-piece music sessions, and here’s what we got.”
It is particularly appreciated that these three artists let their personalities shine rather than imitating Bill Evans. As a result, this album, while being a respectful homage down to the last note, is modernized by the trio’s playing style, which brings a touch of freshness and gentleness that allows us to better appreciate the works. Clark also had very kind words for his pianist partner on “A Letter to Bill Evans.” “The idea of using Wolff for this project was easy because he’s a big harmonic fan of Bill Evans. Plus, he actually became friends with Bill, so he was a likely candidate. And since we had done the Sgt. Pepper record together, it made sense. At first, he was hesitant because he didn’t want to be compared to Bill Evans. But I told him, ‘We’re not asking you to play like Bill Evans, but let’s do something sincere for him.’ So we got together, picked the tunes, and talked things over. Mike changed some of the chords to fit his mindset, and I had to refresh my memory of the material and ended up doing my version of what I would do if I were playing with Bill Evans. I mean, I wouldn’t play it like Paul Motian; I just play it how I play it. And I really love this recording. I’ve listened to it very critically, and I like what’s going on. I think it really swings.”
These are particularly respectable remarks; sometimes, you even feel the same sensation as when listening to Satie, the way Wolff attacks the piano keys. Yes, indeed, there are so many things in Bill Evans’ work that go far beyond jazz; it’s quite pleasant to feel it this way, the delightful elegance of the bassist and drummer as well, a total musical consciousness. Wolff’s connection with Clark, who also celebrates his 50th anniversary as a member of the Headhunters, dates back to the 1960s on the Bay Area jazz scene. “I was the house pianist with Bishop Norman Williams’ Sunday afternoon jam session at a great SF club called Both/And,” he recalls. “I was 17 and still in high school, not old enough to legally get into most clubs at the time. But I had this gig, and Mike came by one Sunday to play. And that was the beginning of a long working relationship. The chemistry between Mike Clark and me has to do with the energy we both possess. We both play by instinct and impulsivity. So we feed off each other and inspire each other. Mike always excites me when we play together, and he challenges me. It’s a fantastic relationship, musically and personally.”
Clark adds: “We met when we were very young. After I moved to New York in 1979 – he had arrived here a year before me – we both started playing with Nat Adderley in the early 80s at places like Fat Tuesday and Visiones.”
This is an album that thoroughly deserves to be a must-have in any worthy music collection and will inevitably inspire listeners to discover or rediscover Bill Evans, who must be smiling happily from wherever he is, seeing that he still inspires so many artists.

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, February 28th 2024


Michael Wolff’s website

Leon Lee Dorsey’s website