BILL EVANS – The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (Evans, piano; Scott LaFaro, bass; Paul Motian, drums) – Riverside 3 CD Set

by | Sep 24, 2005 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

BILL EVANS – The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
(Evans, piano; Scott LaFaro, bass; Paul Motian, drums) – Riverside 3 CD
Set, 3RCD-4443-2 *****:

This spanking new boxed set is akin to the Director’s Cut version of
movies that come out on DVD, with every little thing from the original
added back for the sack of completeness, even some that were edited out
due to various problems the first time around. I’m not grousing, just
explaining that most of these tracks have been issued more than once
before in a number of different versions over the years.  The
original two LPs were titled “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” and
“Waltz for Debby.” This one puts it all back together with additional
takes, to total nearly three hours instead of the 70 minutes or so of
the original two LPs.  In addition remasters it using the JVC
20-bit K2 Super Coding System which was originally developed for xrcd
reissues.  The sonic and musical results are superb in every way.

Orrin Keepnews, the original producer of the live session, contributes
the new notes and reveals some things about the recordings we may not
have known previously. He refers to the recording equipment as
“primitive, barely 1960s.”  It turns out it was a very basic Ampex
stereo portable deck (probably a 601-2 which I once owned myself) and
was just setting on a table close to the bandstand. The audience seems
extremely quite most of the time, and Keepnews reveals that Evans
hadn’t really built up an audience as yet and the Village Vanguard was
very sparsely filled during the sessions. I was reminded of the famous
Jazz at the Pawnshop audiophile favorite, which shares a really basic
recording setup (a Revox deck sitting on the lap of the recording
engineer), but sports a much noisier and more crowded audience which
never shuts up.

Everything is sensitively recorded, with great balances. Keepnews’
usual audio engineer wasn’t available and a substitute was brought in
who had little experience recording jazz groups. He certainly did it
right – this sounds just as clean and impactful as Rudy Van Gelder’s
studio recordings. The clarity of Evan’s piano is exceptional, which
helps greatly in appreciating the subtle but beautifully-crafted
improvisations.  With lesser-quality reproduction and/or too low
level playback, Evans can sound just like most any good cocktail piano
player if one isn’t drawn into the music to listen closely.  I
remember my Ampex was notorious for microphonic tubes – those little
AX7s would really sing sometimes! I have tapes where you can hear
little “pings” when the deck was just touched during recording. There’s
nothing like that on these takes, but during the very first one –
Gloria’s Step – there is a big silence.  The cause was a 
failure of the AC power; fortunately that didn’t occur again during the
rest of the session.  I would say the sonic quality of these
remasterings is very close to the best SACDs in clarity, “air” and
soundstaging. The presence and natural size impression of LaFaro’s bass
is especially to be noted; bowing is used quite often.

This was the epitome of Evan’s piano trios, which had jelled into a
magnificent blend of talents by this time – shortly after the pianist
had left the Miles Davis group. His sidemen were achieving some amazing
collaborations and Keepnews reports that Evans was anxious to get the
trio recorded because he recognized the fragility of what they were
creating.  Sadly, it proved fragile in the most horrible manner –
young virtuoso bassist LaFaro was killed in an auto accident ten days
later. Another revelation of Keepnews is that there was some friction
between LaFaro and Evans due to the bassist being uncomfortable with
Bill Evans’ growing drug dependency.

There are five separate sessions over the three CDs.  Evidently
even this is not everything that was recorded because the second
afternoon set only features three tracks while the others have four to
six tracks.  There are still two different versions of the same
tune, and with All of You we even get three takes.  Only the final
pair of Jade Visions tracks are side by side at the end of the third
CD, so you have to move around the discs if you want to hear two
interpretations of the same tune back to back.

Tracks: Gloria’s Step, Alice in Wonderland, My Foolish Heart, All of
You, My Romance, Some Other Time, Solar, Gloria’s Step, My Man’s Gone
Now, All of You, Detour Ahead, Waltz for Debby, Alice in Wonderland, I
Loves You Porgy, My Romance, Milestones, Detour Ahead, Gloria’s Step,
Waltz for Debby, Jade Vision (2 takes).

– John Henry

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