Scott LaFaro: Pieces of Jade (2009)
In the six years that he was active in the music industry, Scott LaFaro had a more notable career than many other bassists have in a much larger lifetime. He was a member of the Bill Evans Trio, one of the greatest piano trios of all time, and participated in Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1960), a session he really had no business being a part of. Most importantly, however, he developed an entirely new mode of expression for the bass, so much so that anyone who picks up the instrument must contend with his style of playing.
Because there is so little of his work out there, these unreleased recordings are quite a treat. However, this is not a lost LaFaro-led session, but an album cobbled together from various sessions in which he took part. The first five are rehearsal tapes featuring Don Friedman on piano and Pete LaRoca on drums. While they are clearly a bit tentative from finding their footing as they work together, they still turn in a compelling recording that could have been put on Contemporary without much trouble. LaFaro gets ample solo time, and one can clearly hear echoes of just about every modern bassist on the scene in his nimble fingers and supple melodic sense.
There is also a 22-minute rehearsal track with Evans that, surprisingly, is not as revelatory as the Friedman tracks. They work through "My Foolish Heart," or rather one particular section of it, exploring every nook and cranny. Though a wonderful insight into the workings of two seasoned musicians, it's not something that's likely to inspire repeated listening. A 1966 interview with Evans, speaking about the bassist, is also a welcome addition, but, again, not something for those who just want to hear some guys wail. Rounding out the CD is a solo track from Friedman, "Memories for Scotty," a beautiful tribute to the late bassist whose career ended much too soon and who received most of his acclaim posthumously.
So where does all this leave us? It's definitely an interesting curiosity and one likely to appeal to those who want some insight into the workings of LaFaro and, to a lesser extent, Evans. This is probably all the LaFaro stuff that nobody has ever heard, and thus warrants release even if it's not a smooth listen. This isn't the seven-course meal that the Village Vanguard sessions are, but it sure is a nice cocktail.
Track Listing: I Hear A Rhapsody; Sacre Bleu (take 1); Green Dolphin Street; Sacre Bleu (take 2); Woody 'n' You; My Foolish Heart; Interview with Bill Evans; Memories for Scotty.
Personnel: Scott LaFaro: bass; Don Friedman: piano (1-5, 8); Bill Evans, piano (6); Pete LaRoca: drums (1-5).