Bill Evans Trio
The release of this CD was a bit of a frivolity. The music that pianist Bill Evans, bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian recorded at the Village Vanguard during a well documented night had already been reissued on these two CDs (with the exception of one alternate take): Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby. This particular reissue takes "the best of" those performances, reducing 13 selections and seven alternate takes down to one version apiece of ten songs. The music is brilliant but only tells part of the picture from that magical evening. Get the other two CDs instead.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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Through most of my seven-year working association with Bill Evans at Riverside Records, getting him into a recording situation was far from easy. He went on to become an artist of monumental importance, to make major alterations in the language of jazz, and to exert vast influence on virtually every pianist among his contemporaries and those who came after. But for me it is hard to shake off first impressions and to erase the memory of a diffident young musician who set almost impossible standards for himself and was quick to find fault with his attempts to reach his goals. As his first record producer, I am unlikely to forget that a full 26 months elapsed between his initial session as a leader and the second time I was able to persuade him to record.
But somehow both fate and timing were on our side on the last Sunday in June of 1961 -which also turned out to be the final performance date for one of the most remarkable and significant small groups in the entire history of jazz. Recording equipment was in place at one of New York City's most celebrated clubs, and we were able to set down on tape the now-legendary Village Vanguard sessions by the Bill Evans trio that included Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian.
That unit, which reached heights of collaborative interaction possibly never to be equalled, was in existence for little more than a year and a half. At this point, they had made just two studio-recorded albums, one on December 28, 1959, when the three had been together only briefly, and the other more than a year later, on February 2, 1961. That kind of time lapse was-as I've indicated -not at all untypical for Bill. What I cannot recall with certainty is how it became possible to record again less than five months later. Clearly, the group had been making tremendous strides towards the creative unity they were seeking, and quite obviously they had newly gained command of a good deal of previously unrecorded repertoire. (Various versions of 13 different compositions were on the tapes made that Sunday.) I was particularly anxious to try location recording: not only was it a relatively painless way to deal with Evans's basic reluctance to go into the studio, but I had become a partisan of this approach ever since a 1959 "live" album by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet had proved a vast success for Riverside. Apparently, Evans felt positive enough to give in to my pressure and agree to record.
I do know why we chose that particular day of the week: back then the Vanguard offered a Sunday matinee, which meant that by setting up our equipment only once we got the benefit of five full sets (two during the afternoon and three more that night). The Vanguard engagement was for two weeks' by selecting the final weekend, there would be the added cohesiveness that comes from a solid span of playing together. Of course we could have no idea of how close to the edge we were working. Fortunately, there were no serious technical problems. "Gloria's Step", as heard here, was necessarily Take 2, because the power had mysteriously gone out for a half-minute in the midst of the matinee-opening Take 1, but there were no further interruptions. The playing was consistently at a breathtakingly high level and even the super-critical Evans eventually approved versions of a dozen different tunes, so that two albums of this material were initially issued on Riverside.
[In later years the thirteenth number, "Porgy," was included in a reissue package, and still later I was able to assemble a full album of originally unused "takes" which demonstrated that little or nothing played this day was anything less than amazing.]
The original recording was by one of the finest location engineers of that comparatively primitive era, Dave Jones; I know it lent itself quite well to conversion into the contemporary digital magic of the compact disc. Since even CD has its physical limits, just ten of the original thirteen numbers had to be arbitrarily selected for inclusion here; they are, however, heard in the exact order in which they were played that Sunday.
Ten days later, Scott LaFaro-a brilliant and pioneering bassist who would surely have had a monumental impact-was tragically killed in a highway accident. Bill Evans of course went on to many further moments of greatness before his own premature death in 1980, but this trio and these moments were not to be duplicated. I will never cease to feel gratified that they were preserved.