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Pieces Of Jade by Scott LaFaro

Scott LaFaro was one of those musicians, whose number unfortunately is too large, who exerted a high degree of influence during and after a short recording career. Most famously recording with Bill Evans on the legendary Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard albums, transcendent occasions for the trio, LaFaro left behind too few recordings. One of the surprising facts revealed on Resonance Records’ Pieces of Jade is that LaFaro was a late bloomer, picking up the bass at the age of seventeen. His non-traditional approach to playing bass and his artistry progressed so quickly, particularly in the year before his death, that one is left to wonder, as Bill Evans does on the 1966 recorded interview, how many more contributions LaFaro would have made to bass playing if he had continued performing past his twenty-fifth year. In that regard, LaFaro is in the same unfortunate category with Clifford Brown or Booker Little, who burst upon the jazz scene, immediately caught the attention of listeners and left us wondering what might have been. Ironically, Evans, musing upon LaFaro’s passing, says, "I don’t comprehend death." The point is that the music of some performers the most recent being, of course, Michael Jackson becomes so embedded in our psyches that they remain a part of our being despite the separation. Certainly, Evans, even today, fits that description to, as numerous jazz pianists refer to his style as the basis for their own growth.

Even though most of us remember LaFaro’s brief tenure with Evans, it is the still-present, under-appreciated, hard-working Don Friedman who plays with LaFaro on five-eights of the album’s tracks. It so happens that Resonance Records’ founder George Klabin had access to the LaFaro/Friedman tape and held onto it through the ensuing decades until the time was right for its public release. And Klabin had kept his interview with Evans over the past forty years. The result is one of the most comprehensive re-appreciations of Scott LaFaro to date, and the Resonance package includes the book, Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro, written by his sister, Helene LaFaro-Fernández.

The LaFaro/Friedman session was recorded as a demo tape, which actually led to Friedman’s first album, recorded on Riverside. Though Friedman is front and center in the trio, as was Evans in his, the same aesthetic principles of interactivity and spontaneity occur as all three members, including drummer Pete LaRoca, share solos. Two-and-a-half minutes into "I Hear a Rhapsody," LaFaro takes the lead from Friedman for extended improvisation with his highly regarded deep tone, agile facility in obtaining whatever lines he chooses, and innate sense of rhythm that grounds his solo even without the accompaniment of drums. On Friedman’s "Sacre Bléu," LaFaro commands attention with his double stops, throbbing resonance and dark colors drawn by glides between notes.

The ironies of Pieces of Jade’s release consist in the facts that (1) the Friedman collaboration was meant to feature Friedman even as it now pays tribute to LaFaro and (2) that Friedman is the only musician who survives from these recordings. Fittingly, Klabin recorded Friedman once again in the 1980’s when Friedman played "Memories for Scotty" at Klabin’s residence. Frankly, the contrast between the 1961 LaFaro/Friedman tracks and Friedman’s emotionally inspired 1985 solo suggests not only the advancement in recording technology in the intervening twenty years, but also Friedman’s increased fluidity and classical references.

The two tracks involving Evans are those inviting close listening and containing some insights into LaFaro’s methods and personality. First, "My Foolish Heart" was rediscovered from a 1960 LaFaro/Evans practice session, a true feeling-their-way as the two of them worked out their approach to the song. Though recorded without the clarity of a studio session’s sound engineering, it provides insight into their development of an arrangement as Evans called changes to LaFaro before the bassist tentatively responds. The final result from their practice appears, masterfully, on Waltz for Debby. Pieces of Jade includes Klabin’s interview with Evans at WKCR-FM, wherein Evans articulated his feelings and experiences with LaFaro. Honestly, Evans recalls that the youthful bassist "wasn’t getting anything together in any organized way. He was bubbling over.... tripping over himself with the intensity to get [everything] out. But.... any perceptive person would know [LaFaro] is a very unique and exceptional talent." Eventually, the two musicians formed the empathy and intuitive spontaneity that made their few recordings unforgettable.

Pieces of Jade and the book by Scott LaFaro’s sister help to complete the portrait of LaFaro that had been left incomplete for decades since the loss of this exceptional bassist in an automobile accident.

Don Williamson

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Scott LaFaro
  • CD Title: Pieces Of Jade
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Resonance Records
  • Tracks: I Hear A Rhapsody, Sacre Bléu, Green Dolphon St., Sacre Bléu, Woody’n You, My Foolish Heart, Interview with Bill Evans, Memories For Scotty
  • Musicians: Scott LaFaro, bass; Don Friedman, Bill Evans, piano; Pete LaRoca, drums; George Klabin, interviewer
  • Rating: Four Stars
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