I will preface this by saying I am not a tremendous purveyor of jazz. However, after hearing this album, that may change. I stumbled upon this one just today and I wanted to say something about it.
Bill Evans and Jim Hall have shown a tremendous expertise of form and structure on this album. Each song paints a perfect picture in your mind, and that's something not a lot of tracks can do without words and singers to aid them. It is a total joy to listen to all the way through.
Note that there appear to be two releases for this album. The original LP consists of only the first six tracks, up to and including Darn That Dream. There was a reissue in 2002 which includes two additional tracks, plus two alternate takes—I listened to the reissue, but I will only be reviewing the first six tracks.
My Funny Valentine is a perfect opener. It is a "remember when", a relationship in song form - the harsh, compelling stumbles at the beginning interspersed with rhythmic and functional beats mark the birth of lovers. They sway through the song, eventually culminating in a mature, more traditional beat that lasts right up until death at the end of the track.
If My Funny Valentine is a happy look back, I Hear a Rhapsody lies somewhere in the inverse. There are moments of warm beauty mixed in but it is the antithesis of the first song in many ways. Together, they were an incredible opener. I Hear a Rhapsody is honestly one of the most beautiful things I've heard in a long time.
Somewhere towards the third track of this album I started to become less interested; however I think that is more subjective and less truthful of the quality of the music, because it would regularly pull me back in as I listened; and those times when I would tune in more seriously again, I would never find myself disappointed. I think maybe the music may intentionally induce this quality; around the third track you notice a mix of melodies that is almost purposely low-key and less emotionally-intense than the prior tracks.
Skating in Central Park plays on a similar theme to the first. It sounds exactly like the title: spending a day skating in Central Park with your sweetheart , then going out for ice cream, driving up to a hill and sitting on the roof of your car together to watch the sunset—or something equally romantic.
I must mention that all throughout the instrumentation is fantastic. The gain control is also phenomenal; sounds are made purposely louder or quieter just so; and the positioning of every single instrument is completely on point.
Darn That Dream has more of the great twinkling guitars, notes given form, substance and color in the corners of your mind. Close your eyes and listen.
I will reiterate that I am no jazz buff, but in terms of my musical knowledge this is a great album to sit down and appreciate. I'd like to listen to it a few more times, but for now, a tentative...