Certain quintessential works of art, like Van Gogh's "Starry Night or Munch's "The Scream, have been iconic and universal in their appeal to a worldwide audience. Much in the same manner, jazz has its own share of legendary recordings that have become widely appreciated, from Benny Goodman's famous appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 to Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue
(1959) or John Coltrane's A Love Supreme
(1965). To that choice list of essential releases, few would argue that the 1961 Village Vanguard recordings of the Bill Evans trio hold a special place in the collective hearts of many musicians and fans, the complete results of which have now been assembled in an attractive set that should be required listening for anyone even remotely interested in jazz.
This would be one of those few instances in musical history when everything would be just for right for the making of a masterpiece. Evans was at the peak of his pianistic powers with his most sympathetic colleagues to date: bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. The trio had been developing its repertoire during their two-week stay at one of New York's most revered and intimate clubs, and engineer Dave Jones was on hand at the end of this stint to capture every subtle nuance. At the time, the music was diced and sliced and forced to fit the constraints of the LP era. Now it's all here as it went down and in glorious sound that puts you right in the middle of the action.
These three discs feature 22 performances from the five sets the trio performed back on June 25, 1961. Although in his commentary (included in the enclosed booklet) Orrin Keepnews calls the recording equipment "primitive," what has always been fascinating about these recordings have been the way that their crystaline quality illuminated the inner workings of this remarkable trio. Blow by blow descriptions are really unnecessary here. There's a freshness to this music that belies its age, and it never fails to energize, whether on the first or ninety-first listen.
Personnel: Bill Evans: piano; Scott LaFaro: bass; Paul Motian: drums.