Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bill Evans | The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961

I was in high school, borrowed Kind of Blue from Carlos, sat on the bed, put some ear goggles on, and gave it a spin. I recall tears peeking out the corners of my eyes and a Gordian Knot in my gut during “Blue in Green.” It wasn’t Miles’s muted horn or Trane’s melodicism that got me. It was the piano and Bill Evans. “Blue in Green,” an Evans number, is a ten-bar, circularly structured tune, ripe with emotional devastation. But it wasn’t the notes. After all, everybody has access to the same notes. It’s what’s behind them, the unquantifiable quality that colors the music, that makes a note or chord we’ve heard hundreds of times sound as if no one in the history of music has ever played it before. That’s the power of Bill Evans. Once harnessed and armed with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, Evans was ready to take on jazz history and conventional jazz theory.

The idea was simultaneous improvisation. LaFaro was not going to walk while Evans soloed and Motian rode the cymbals. He was going to craft answers in response to ideas in Evans playing, in effect creating a variegated, dynamic improvisation with no one just blowing.

The trio’s apex was
captured in one day, June 25, 1961, during five sets at the Village Vanguard. Many of these tunes were in Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby, two of the most beloved live jazz records. This three CD box set collects all of the tunes performed that day and organizes them by sets. In the evening’s first set “Gloria’s Step,” Evans and LaFaro’s playing is so inextricable it’s as if both beings shared a brain but had two separate bodies. As far as swinging goes, the tired cliché “Bill Evans only plays ballads, he can’t swing” is absolutely discredited. For proof, check out “Milestones” in the evening’s second set. His melodic lines and phrases are layered with LaFaro’s interpretations of the same chords in swift moments of harmony. Ten days after the trio’s luminous day the Vanguard, LaFaro died in a car accident, leaving behind a legacy that had yet to be fulfilled. Though distraught by his friend’s death, Evans career moved forward, often working in piano trios, searching for the spirit of ’61Vanguard date until his untimely death to drugs and a failing body in 1980.
(Photo credit: Henry Kahanek)

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