Bassist Scott LaFaro was killed in an auto accident in 1961 at only 25, cutting off a career in which he was destined for greatness. Before his death he had already made a name for himself in pianist Bill Evans' groundbreaking trio, which also included drummer Paul Motian. This group was immortalized by its 1961 recording at Village Vanguard, Sunday at The Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debbie, both released by Riverside the same year. These live dates set the standard for piano trios; the playing melding seamlessly, with each player given ample opportunity to stand out on his own.
Here, Pieces of Jade features material previously unavailable. Five selections were recorded in New York City in 1961, showcasing LaFaro with pianist Don Friedman and drummer Pete LaRoca. As a bonus, the CD offers a 22-minute recording from an extended 1960 practice session with LaFaro and Evans, as they put together their famous version of "My Foolish Heart." Included, as well, is a 13-minute 1966 interview with Evans reflecting on LaFaro, his life and talent.
The play list consists of a mix of standards, along with two takes of an original by Friedman. The program finishes with Friedman's moving solo piece, "Memories for Scotty," recorded in 1985.
The greatness of LaFaro is reestablished here as he once more excels in the trio format. In this context, it's possible to further appreciate LaFaro's improvisational skill and full bass sound, as he rhythmically marches through Friedman's "Sacre Bleu" and frames his buoyant solo on "Green Dolphin Street."
The pleasant surprise of this record is Friedman. Always an under-appreciated musician, he still plays today. In this early effort his sparkling genius is apparent throughout. Certainly influenced by Evans, Friedman also shows a pleasant penchant for Red Garland's block chords as in "Sacre Bleu." His lightning pace is on display particularly as he trades fours with LaRoca in Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody'n You."
The rehearsal session tape with Evans is certainly interesting, but marred by garbled sound. More enlightening is the Evans interview with George Klabin, with Evans analyzing what made LaFaro's playing so unique.
One thing Evans says is that he had to advise LaFaro to control himself, to hold back. He was trying to say too much as he improvised. This is indeed ironic. In his short life, he had so much to say, it's very fortunate to have another recording to add to his legacy.
Personnel: Don Friedman: piano; Scott LaFaro: bass; Pete LaRoca: drums.