x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fictional account of a jazz musician's grief is revealing but distant

Owen Martell's The Intermission is based on 1960s jazz star Bill Evans' sudden withdrawal from society following the death of his bandmate in a car crash.

Intermission
Owen Martell
William Heinemann

Days after the Bill Evans Trio recorded their seminal 1961 album, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, bass player Scott LaFaro died in a car accident. The effect on the already fragile Evans, a heroin user of several years, was shattering. Withdrawing into seclusion, he was unable to record or perform for months.

This "intermission" is the factual basis for Owen Martell's fictional account of those months. We follow Evans as he retreats to the home of his brother, then his parents, each chapter recounting the experience through each in turn. Their observance of Evans - lost in silent grief - are harmonised with their confessional insights, memories and anecdotes, throwing light on the familial dynamics and its dysfunctional quirks. Yet for all the domestic intimacy, the narrative maintains a coolly distant tone (underlined by an absence of dialogue) and Evans re-emerges from his hiatus no less remote. Those seeking insight into his mindset, or a depiction of the New York jazz scene may be disappointed, but in addition to Martell's masterful prose, there's enough biographical touches and substance to engage both jazz buffs and the uninitiated.