Bill Evans Trio: Portrait In Jazz

The album that announced the pianist's influential democratic trio concept is reissued minus alternate takes and plus most of its sequel


Eight months after participating with Miles Davis on Kind Of Blue, Bill Evans recorded Portrait In Jazz with a brand new grouping – the Bill Evans Trio – featuring bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. The resulting LP, here reissued with a bonus track, was to herald a fresh departure in piano trio jazz.

Evans’ approach in the new trio was to free up individual roles so that each musician in the trio might participate equally. As a consequence we hear LaFaro often assuming the melody and duetting directly with the pianist rather than just accompanying and playing occasional solos – as had hitherto generally been the bassist’s lot. Similarly, Motian isn’t the typical drummer, carrying out time-keeping duties; instead he drums in sync with Evans and his impressionistic approach conveys the moods and emotions suggested by the pianist.

Evans continued to develop the concept of simultaneous improvisation in the three albums that the trio recorded next – Explorations, Sunday At The Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby. However, LaFaro’s untimely death in a car crash 11 days after making the last one brought an end to the trio.

The tracks on Portrait In Jazz, bar two, are standards by the likes of Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. However, there’s nothing standard about the delivery as the trio brings to each song their unique interpretation and individual creativity. The two non-standards are Peri’s Scope, named after Evans’s girlfriend Peri, and Blue In Green. The latter was written for Kind Of Blue but Davis claimed composition credit and took the royalties.

A CD reissue of the album contained two versions of Blue In Green and two of Autumn Leaves but just one of each appears hears, as the original LP. In addition, while you wouldn’t know it from the CD cover, most of Explorations is added as a bonus, only the album’s final track, Sweet And Lovely, omitted.

This CD release has excellent sound quality and is accompanied by a 20-page booklet with original liner notes by Orrin Keepnews, photos of Bill Evans et al and an interesting appreciation by Brian Morton.

(1) Come Rain Or Come Shine; Autumn Leaves; Witchcraft; When I Fall In Love; Peri’s Scope; What Is This Thing Called Love; Spring Is Here; Someday My Prince Will Come; Blue In Green; (2) Israel; Haunted Heart; Beautiful Love; Elsa; How Deep Is the Ocean?; I Wish I Knew; Nardis (76.10)
(1) Evans (p); Scott LaFaro (b); Paul Motian (d). New York, 28 December 1959.
(2) as (1) but New York, 2 February 1961.
20th Century Masterworks 170067