Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, Paul Motian: Complete Trio Recordings

In contrast to the express radicalism of Ornette Coleman et alia, the quiet, in some ways traditional Evans trio created its own revolution


The famous Bill Evans trio – with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian – was only in existence for a short time, from late 1959 until LaFaro’s untimely death on 6 July 1961. It recorded two studio albums – Portrait In Jazz in December 1959 and Explorations in February 1961 – and two live sets at the Village Vanguard in New York on 25 June 1961.

Recently, these four albums have been joined by a live set from Birdland, recorded in March-May 1960. And that is their total output, five CDs of perfection, available here, I believe for the first time, as a single package.

Tellingly, this collection is billed as being by three individual musicians, not by a trio led and therefore dominated by Evans. For this music came from a group of equals, three individual talents who contributed equally to each piece they played. The three are usually praised for their group improvisation, but in the sleeve notes, bassist Stanley Clarke dissents, preferring the word “interplay”:

“What was cool about the trio was that regimentation was thrown out of the window, there was a lot of interplay, and the music was going in all directions, linear, forwards, backwards.”

Bassist Eddie Gomez makes the same point: “The interactivity between all the instruments, the dialog, the space they created was unique. I began to fathom that later when I played with Bill: how much music you can personally create is related to how much you create as a group.”

And what they created was phenomenal. I have no doubt that I am preaching to the converted here, for this music is in a class of its own. When jazz was being turned upside down in 1959 by Ornette Coleman’s free approach, and by the modal innovations of Miles Davis and later John Coltrane, this quiet, in some ways traditional, trio created its own revolution. Critics often overuse such words as essential, and seminal. Not this time, for this music is utterly timeless.

CD1: [Portrait In Jazz] 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; Some Day My Prince Will Come; Blue In Green; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Autumn Leaves; Blue In Green (alt 1); Blue In Green (alt 2) (60.04)
CD2: [Explorations] Israel; Haunted Heart; Beautiful Love; Elsa; Nardis; How Deep Is The Ocean?; I Wish I Knew; Sweet And Lovely; The Boy Next Door; Beautiful Love (alt); How Deep Is the Ocean (alt); I Wish I Knew (alt) 60.02)
CD3: [The 1960 Birdland Sessions] Autumn Leaves; Our Delight; Beautiful Love/Five; Autumn Leaves; Come Rain Or Come Shine/Five; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Nardis; Blue In Green; Autumn Leaves; All Of You; Come Rain Or Cone Shine; Speak Low (73.06) 
CD4: [Complete Live At The Village Vanguard 1961] Gloria’s Step (alt); Alice In Wonderland; My Foolish Heart; All Of You (alt 1); My Romance; Some Other Time; Solar; Gloria’s Step; My Man’s Gone Now; All Of You; Detour Ahead; Conversation (76.45)
CD5: Waltz For Debby (alt); Alice In Wonderland; I Loves You Porgy; My Romance (alt); Milestones; Detour Ahead; Gloria’s Step (alt 2); Waltz For Debby; All Of You (alt 2); Jade Visions (alt); Jade Visions; A few final bars (74.57)

Evans (p); LaFaro (b); Motian (d). CD1: New York, 28 December 1959; CD2: New York, 2 February 1961; CD3: Live, Birdland, New York, 12 March–7 May 1960; CD4 & 5: Live, Village Vanguard, New York, 25 June 1961.
Fingerpoppin’ Records 117027

Simon Adams