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The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 by Bill Evans

This 3-CD collection chronicles one glorious afternoon and evening in the life, as it were, of this extraordinary trio. These two sets in the afternoon and three more on the evening of June 25, 1961 were recorded by engineer David Jones and produced by Orrin Keepnews at New York City’s venerable Village Vanguard. The music captured is magnificent.

The trio was one of the most celebrated in jazz. The deft touch of the leader was widely hailed as that of a bona fide master pianist. Bassist Scott LaFaro, who would die in a car accident 11 days later, on July 6, was perhaps the most influential player of his day, firmly anchored in the tradition but at the vanguard of an introspective school of emerging players that included Charlie Haden and Eddie Gomez. Paul Motian, the great trapsman, then as now the epitome of adventurousness and improvisation, had an articulate swing that accentuated and sometimes cued Evans and LaFaro. Together they thought as a unit, though certainly the strength of their individualism made this possible.

The opening afternoon take on LaFaro’s "Gloria’s Step" is wholly captivating. This is described as "interrupted" and as seeing its first US release in that fashion, though it really is not particularly blatant. It sounds more as if the players didn’t meet at the finish line when they expected to. "Alice In Wonderland" follows, offering dazzling playing by all. "My Foolish Heart" and "All of You" finish the early set. Following Evans’ thanks and break for the set, crowd noises can be heard where the tape was left running, offering a superb look into the busy room. "My Romance" opens the second set, with a piano intro just in front of the drum and bass joining in. Evans is at his most delightful here. "Some Other Time" and a superb version of Miles Davis’ "Solar" close the afternoon and the first disc.

The second disc contains the first two evening sets, with another wonderful version of "Gloria’s Step" opening. The version of "My Man’s Gone," is lush and majestic, with Motian playing mallets on cymbals to LaFaro’s heavy dark lines and Evans’ searching and expressive playing. "All Of You" and "Detour Ahead," with an especially impressive LaFaro solo, close the set.

The second evening set begins with tape of the musicians discussing the set, and then launches into the classic "Waltz For Debby." The most gorgeous tune in the Evans book, it is given a superb reading here, with Evans solo until the bridge that explodes with bass and drum accompaniment. Another take on "Alice in Wonderland," follows, with an introspective "Porgy (I Loves You Porgy)" and a lively take on "Milestones" closing the set. As much as this is a relatively loud piece, it adds to the excitement of the performance that crowd noises can still be heard in the background.

The third disc contains the third and final set of the night. Reprises are offered of "Detour Ahead," "Gloria’s Step" (the third version here,) "Waltz for Debby," and the third and most fully realized take on "All Of You," on which the trio breaks out and virtually explodes with emotive performance. The final cuts are two versions back to back on "Jade Visions." LaFaro sets up his composition with a pensive pizzicato line, over which Motian and Evans work sparingly. Evans flies fluidly over the keys here as the song fades quietly to applause. A second version follows, though there is no explanation for the two versions being back to back. The final few seconds of tape, which the engineer makes Evans aware of, are given a few seconds of a cowboy/cartoon sounding run that gets a chuckle from the audience.

As important as the Monk/Coltrane Carnegie Hall performance unearthed last year was, this was the most impressive bit of history to be released in 06.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bill Evans
  • CD Title: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
  • Genre: Cool Jazz
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Riverside
  • Musicians: Bill Evans (piano), Scott LaFaro (bass), Paul Motian (drums).
  • Rating: Four Stars
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