By Tony Gieske
Putting aside the burden of his many writing commissions for symphony orchestras, singers and festivals and his somehow late-blooming renown, the great pianist Billy Childs gave a brilliant little concert for the patrons of Upstairs at Vitello’s Thursday where he ever-so-deftly raised the roof.
I have heard him when he seemed to be Ravel or Satie or Duke Ellington but tonight Childs was Bill Evans, even when he tried to be McCoy Tyner or Mulgrew Miller.
To play the piano lyrically, of course, you cannot help but enter Bill Evans territory. So if you gotta do it, do it, seemed to be Childs’ mantra, and before you knew it he was expanding the Evans boundaries like the genius he is.
The first thing you hear in a Bill Evans performance is the shockingly beautiful singing tone he gets from each keystroke. Sure enough, Childs had that one down, playing “Come Rain or Come Shine” and similar ballads with that lyrical but adventurous improvisational movement the older musician pioneered.
Little atonal canons are tossed off. Adroitly placed silences startle the ear and immediately convince it. Block chords display each note within them. None of this error-free complexity can be done from memory; you must think it up as you go along. A strain-free swing keeps everything moving from one delight to another.
The latter aspect was enforced with quick-witted inevitability by two of the town’s greatest rhythm section players, the bassist Tom Warrington and the drummer Peter Erskine. Their work brought frequent grateful grins from the leader.
Childs’ affection for McCoy Tyner was marked with a merry little jump piece called “Boinkin’ Around,” and his regard for Evans’ seemingly inimitable romps came out with “34 Skidoo” and “It’s You or No One.” By this time, you’d become accustomed to a state of astonishment at how good they sounded.
“I’m definitely gonna come back to this place,” Childs declared after earning a couple of authentic sounding ovations. We can only hope.
Photos by Tony Gieske. Read and see more of Tony Gieske’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site tonyspage.com.