The first album by any given artist is not likely to be their best, for obvious reasons: most are still developing a style and honing their craft. This 1956 session, Bill Evans’ first as a leader, is no different. The introverted pianist had to be virtually forced into recording as a leader, but these early explorations launched one of the most acclaimed and influential careers in the history of jazz. However, these are, at heart, exactly that: early explorations. Even at this stage he had the chops to make this a good piano jazz album, but in the end it’s not a very good Bill Evans album.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know Evans would quickly perfect his elegant, introverted style on later releases, but this session seems slightly derivative of the musicians that influenced him, particularly Bud Powell. The trio comes roaring out of the gate with “I Love You,” a forceful performance that echoes the attack of the bop pianists Evans grew up listening to.
However, it’s clear that Evans is still shaping his approach. There are glimpses of the later trademarks of Evans’ style, such as the rhythmic displacement on “Five” and the intro to “Yesterdays” but perhaps the strongest representation of things to come is the solo tracks, such as “I Got It Bad” and the classic original “Waltz For Debby,” in which Evans shows the graceful chords and elastic tempos that would bewitch listeners of his future recordings. Although Teddy Kotick provides sturdy support and contributes some fine solos, it wasn’t until Scott LaFaro took over the bass chair that Evans really redefined the piano trio with the dynamic interplay of all its members.
Those who have those classics already will most likely be satisfied but not overly impressed with Evans’ first record. However, they won’t be surprised to find that Evans was already ahead of most of his peers, even at this early stage.
Personnel: Bill Evans - piano; Teddy Kotick - bass; Paul Motian - drums.