This 45th anniversary issue of all five June 25, 1961 sets by pianist Bill Evans' trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian is rightly considered the crowning preserved achievement of one of the most influential piano trios in jazz history. This group was the coming out of a new, sensitive, interactive mode, a new ideal of the piano trio as triumvirate. In hindsight, though, Motian still seems more a timekeeper at this juncture than the spacey, open drummer he has since become.
What made this trio so innovative was the shift in the role of the bass engineered by LaFaro (who tragically died in an auto accident less than two weeks after these recordings). He was in the vanguard of a new generation of bassists who played in a higher register than their forebears and often eschewed a traditional timekeeping role to pursue contrapuntal harmonic and melodic lines outside of the basic beat.
At its best, this approach can be stunning, as on both takes of "My Romance, where Evans and LaFaro spin ideas and lines off each other as if communicating telepathically. Then there are the bass solos, feats of imagination and dexterity, more numerous and longer than was the norm for trio bassists at the time.
These recordings offer clear evidence refuting the claims that Evans, at least in this stage of his career, was basically an introverted, romantically lyrical player. He may have made music bordering on cocktail piano, or at least inspiring it, in his later yearsbut in 1961 he still displayed a strong, steely touch and a creative approach that was more intellectually analytical than sentimentally romantic.
The evidence is here in his playing on three abstracted-from-the-melody versions of "All of You, especially the second take, with its startling chorus of cluster chord nuggets. And that musical intelligence shines forth on the two pieces from the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, a crystalline, intensely thematic piano solo on "My Man's Gone Now and a spare and haunting yet strongly voiced version of "Porgy (I Loves You, Porgy). And don't miss the very boppish Miles gems here, "Solar and "Milestones, further evidence that Evans was as much a modernist as a romanticist.
Personnel: Bill Evans: piano; Scott LaFaro: bass; Paul Motian: drums.