Bill Evans: Bill Evans: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Those of us who are diehard jazz collectors often loathe answering questions from neophytes as to a good starting place for building a jazz collection. Nonetheless, a short go-to list would probably include the iconic live sessions of Bill Evans and his trio captured on tape by Riverside Records back in June of 1961. For sheer improvisational genius and telepathic group interplay, these recordings can't be beat. Furthermore, the sonic magic that teleports you to your own personal table at the Village Vanguard has always been an undeniable perk of these sides.

Upon initial examination, producer Orrin Keepnews decided to pick and choose from the music recorded over five sets on June 25th, 1961. The resulting albums, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby were somewhat of a piecemeal offering of the material, a fact made better known years later as the reissue boon offered additional releases of Vanguard material. Then, a 2005 release brought forth all this music digitally remastered on a 3 CD boxed set. For the first time, every significant note was to be heard in its entirety and with the best possible sound quality, or so one thought.

It is this very same production that is duplicated on Concord's new 4 LP box, which just so happens to sport the same cover, art work, and teaser featured on the aforementioned CD set. So why would one want to bother with this retread if the CD box is already in their possession? Vinyl lovers would quickly explain that an analog mastering would be well worth the time and investment. But, that is not the case here. And so the plot thickens.

In an attempt to get a clear picture of what I was dealing with, this reviewer started scouring the internet, looking at forums and gathering information about the true source used for this vinyl set. This would be the second time this year that questions would abound in regards to vinyl reissues. The fact that Blue Note has been using digital masters to press their 75th anniversary vinyl reissues has caused quite a stir in the jazz community.

In the final analysis, it seems that Concord has followed suit in utilizing a digital master, that being the same one Joe Tarantino cut for the 2005 boxed set of the Evans material. No one seems to be able or willing to answer as to why the original analog tapes were not used in this vinyl reissue. Possibly, the condition of the 53 year old masters has deteriorated, making them fragile. One can only speculate.

At this point, those who crave only analog masters will probably bail out, but that would be a grave mistake. Unlike the spotty job Blue Note has done with their vinyl program, everything about this Bill Evans set speaks to quality and care. Mastered by George Horn and Anne-Marie Suenram and pressed at the iconic RTI facilities, there is a warmth and sense of clarity with these new 180 gram sides that simply defies the imagination.

Having devoured the CD set, this reviewer was well aware of this music in its previous incarnation. What I wasn't prepared for was how well the sympathetic interplay between Evans, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Paul Motian would be delineated on these drop dead silent LPs. The sound is almost holographic in nature, without a hint of digital harshness. There is a balanced timbre in Evans' piano that is thoroughly engaging. By the same token, you can hear every string click on the bridge of La Faro's bass and Motian's swirling brushes are etched with a jeweler's precision.

These LPs are the way to listen to this classic music and once I started spinning these sides, I was hard pressed to stop. You just want to keep listening to record after record. Adding to the enjoyment are some perks not to be found with the CD set. There is a glossy replica contact sheet of photos from the actual session, a lithograph poster of the iconic cover shot, recording data sheets written by Keepnews, and a new booklet that includes photographs of the actual tape reels and boxes. It all adds up to one of the best vinyl reissues of 2014!

Associated equipment used for evaluation:
Rega P25 turntable fitted with Graham Robin tonearm and Soundsmith Carmen cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Acurus P10 phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner.
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