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fasstrack

A possibly heretical statement re Bill Evans' first trio

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It's received wisdom that the Bill Evans' first trio was something special: innovative, contrapuntal, lyrical. And so it was. When I was very young I was taken by its magic. However, listening now many years later, via youtube to the complete Vanguard recordings I find the music rhythmically stilted, overly precious, overly cerebral. There's little variance in tempo and most of the vitality is coming from Scott LaFaro. In short, it puts me to sleep.

Fast forward two or three years to two back to back appearances (also viewed on youtube) of Bill's reconfigured trio with Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker on the British TV show Jazz 625. Different story altogether. The music is much harder swinging, better integrated, and Bill himself sounds much more alive and vital. It's wonderful.

It could be that I and my tastes have changed, but I'll put it out to the forum: anyone else have problems with those Vanguard sessions? What say you?

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(Paging Mr. Kart...)

For my part I can understand these reactions to the music and I think there's merit in that line of critical reasoning. But I still love it.

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Never was a big fan, though the music has certain merits and has clearly influenced other work that I DO like.

Agreed, the trio with Israels and Bunker is another beast altogether, and is much tougher. I also think the trio with Gomez and Tony Oxley is pretty fine.

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Mr. Kart here: :) FWIW, I still love those Village Vanguard recordings and the two preceding albums (though not quite as much as the VV recordings), though I agree with Fasstrack about the frequent primacy of LaFaro in what's going on there. In the part of my book that deals with Evans, I speculate about the arguable artistic (and psychological-emotional?) fruitfulness of Evans' relative reticence in relation to LaFaro. In any case, I don't agree about the trios that followed LaFaro's death. LaFaro's boldness, one might say, allowed Evans to virtually disappear/hide behind the lace curtains (see the cover to "Explorations") -- quite beautifully so IMO and, I would guess, out of necessity (heroin anyone?) -- while the later trios of the early '60s where Evans had to take a more forthright role were not very successful by and large. Harder swinging, yes, in that that swing was more like what was commonly meant by "hard swinging" at the time, but the swing of the VV recordings is "stilted"? Anything but, at least by me. I'll check with the dictionary, but doesn't "stilted" mean or imply stiff and predictable? Whatever its flaws and limitations might have been, I don't think that the VV trio was that.


Stilted: synonyms: strained, forced, contrived, constrained, labored, stiff, self-conscious, awkward, unnatural, wooden

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I feel like it's akin to comparing the Miles Davis Sextet to the Miles Davis Quintet. Sure, the latter was far more adventurous and exciting, but does that mean the former low-key and boring?

I have the Vanguard box set and enjoy it quite a bit. But, even I have to admit that I often find myself completely entranced by what LaFaro is doing that the other two kind of get lost in the shuffle at times.

Still a damn fine trio and outing.

*edit* I see Larry posted while I was composing my post. I pretty much agree with everything he stated.

Edited by Scott Dolan

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I tend to agree with Joel's statement. I recently read "Jade Visions", Scott La Faro's bio by his sis, and there's a lot of talk about SL pleading with BE to get off of junk, so it was probably making his playing sluggish, while SL was a freaking dynamo up till his untimely death at 25.

Yesterday, Phil Schaap played BE's early recordings with Geo. Russell and the "New Jazz Conceptions" LP, where he was a force of nature considering PS said it was recorded in 1956 (which sounds wrong).

There's a tendency to overrate the SL, PM, BE trio, because of the innovation of the freeing of SL's role in the PBD trio, which is understandable, because it did change jazz history.

However, as JF said, it was mainly SL's playing that stood out, and BE's playing was much better before and after the SL trio,

I asked a pianist who I play with a lot (who jokingly refers to himself as an 'idiot savant BE', because he;s spent almost 50 years studying and copying BE's style) about the SL,PM,BE trio, and he said they were still developing the trio, and hadn't gotten it together yet.

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the SL,PM,BE trio, and he said they were still developing the trio, and hadn't gotten it together yet.

That's an interesting statement considering they had been playing together for about a year or two by the time the Vanguard dates were performed.

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I went through a major Bill Evans period years ago, and have a shelf full of LPs as a result. But I haven't been able to listen to them now in years. Every once in a while, will try, usually can't get past Side One. The reason is simply this: when he's not sliding into bathos, he's drowning in pathos. More hideous is when he occasionally forces a more upbeat attempt, comes off like one of those grinning "Dia de Muertos" dolls. My guess as to his popularity has to do with his music being a gateway into sentimentality.

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I think he generally did his best playings outside of his own groups.

Ok, maybe not "best", but definitely the playing of his that I can engage in more. Tony Scott, George Russell, Oliver Nelson, Miles, etc.

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I prefer to think of Evans as a chameleon rather than an Icon. Leadership may have been one of the worst things to happen to him personally (not professionally). Consequently, I find myself turning more often to Evans' recordings with "non-regulars": Shelly Manne, Jack Dejohnette (Montreux), the Marsh-Konitz reunion for Fantasy, the record with Harold Land and Kenny Burrell...

Edited by Joe

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Evans was at his best, IMO, with Philly Joe Jones on drums. I enjoy recordings by many of Evans' trios. I think Marty Morell was a good drummer for Evans. But my favorite Evans recordings are with Philly Joe. He always gave Evans the necessary kick in the a$$.

Edited by John Tapscott

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Evans is one of those artists I can enjoy the work of from any period, and from whom I'm always discovering new nuances and strong performances.

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I tend to agree with Lon. I can usually find something fresh in Evans'recordings. That said some of his strongest work is as a sideman.

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Since the original question was about the VV sessions, I still love them a lot.

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Evans is one of those artists I can enjoy the work of from any period, and from whom I'm always discovering new nuances and strong performances.

My sentiments, exactly.

IMHO, there is BE, and then there is everybody else.

i can't think of any other musician other than Bird or Trane that has had more recorded tributes to him.

There's even a Bill Evans University somewhere in France!

And we all know that "Everybody Digs Bill Evans"!! :crazy:

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Fasstrack, I like that you listened to the VV sessions with fresh ears. As they're considered part of "the canon," there's a tendency to be respectful and dutiful towards them, rather than just listening to see what you hear.

I've never been that into BE, but happen to own a lot of his work by picking up boxed sets when they're inexpensive. I'm now plowing through the Verve box (I'm up to disc 16), and most of this work can best be considered "pleasant" (I'm not referring to the repetitive content the box contains, since that's obviously not BE's fault). To echo some of the other posters, the discs where he seems to wake up are the ones with driving drummers kicking him, most notably PJJ.

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Back in the 60's when I was living in Detroit I saw the Bill Evans trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motion. Didn't care for LaFaro much at all. I do though very much like the Vanguard and other early Evans recordings, but would have preferred another bass player.

It is Bill's playing that makes those early sessions so very very enjoyable to me.

I also spent two evenings in a row at the Roundtowner Motel Lounge in Rochester, New York listening to Bill Evans with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell. Gomez bored me to tears with his very lengthy unswinging solos. Morrell was an ok timekeeper, but not the most interesting of drummers.

I share the opinion expressed by John Tapscott regarding Philly Joe Jones. He was definitely my favorite drummer with Evans.

The Quintessence session where Bill Evans plays with Harold Land, Kenny Burrell, Ray Brown and Philly Joe shows Bill in a different light as compared with his trio recordings. Wish he had recorded more often in that sort of context.

But the bottom line for me is that Bill Evans recordings throughout his entire career continue to give me much wonderful listening.

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I like those recordings, don't love 'em - but I would add that I generally prefer them to the other BE stuff I've heard as a leader. I tend to prefer his musical offspring (Herbie, Chick, Keith).

FWIW, Paul Motian said he and Gary Peacock quit to join Paul Bley because they found the music to be too restrained - but that was in reference to the stuff BE was doing in 1963, not to what he was performing at the VV in 1961.

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I happen to be listening to the little regarded Costa record w- Evans and he is attentive responsive and clever - quite enjoyable.

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I happen to be listening to the little regarded Costa record w- Evans and he is attentive responsive and clever - quite enjoyable.

"Guys and Dolls Like Jazz"? That's a good one -- "attentive responsive and clever" exactly.

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Guys and Dolls is a great cd. Gets a lot of play here.

Edited by JohnS

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In my personal pantheon of jazz pianists Bill Evans is up at the top, just after Bud Powell in his prime. That said, the Vanguard sessions have never been the ultimate for me; of the early albums I always prefer Portrait in Jazz and Reflections. Perhaps my very favorite Evans is on some of the solo albums.

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Mr. Kart here: :) FWIW, I still love those Village Vanguard recordings and the two preceding albums (though not quite as much as the VV recordings), though I agree with Fasstrack about the frequent primacy of LaFaro in what's going on there. In the part of my book that deals with Evans, I speculate about the arguable artistic (and psychological-emotional?) fruitfulness of Evans' relative reticence in relation to LaFaro. In any case, I don't agree about the trios that followed LaFaro's death. LaFaro's boldness, one might say, allowed Evans to virtually disappear/hide behind the lace curtains (see the cover to "Explorations") -- quite beautifully so IMO and, I would guess, out of necessity (heroin anyone?) -- while the later trios of the early '60s where Evans had to take a more forthright role were not very successful by and large. Harder swinging, yes, in that that swing was more like what was commonly meant by "hard swinging" at the time, but the swing of the VV recordings is "stilted"? Anything but, at least by me. I'll check with the dictionary, but doesn't "stilted" mean or imply stiff and predictable? Whatever its flaws and limitations might have been, I don't think that the VV trio was that.

Stilted: synonyms: strained, forced, contrived, constrained, labored, stiff, self-conscious, awkward, unnatural, wooden

You're right. 'Stilted' is the wrong word. I almost wrote 'stillborn', but that would've been too harsh.

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I'm not sure where I'd rank Evans in the Jazz pantheon.

My personal top five would be Monk, Tyner, Jarrett, Hancock, and Cooper-Moore.

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If there was, like, a Noah's Ark of post-bop/pre-Cecil pianists, and this ark had one seat left on it, and the rain was stating to come down pretty good, and the two people left at the boarding ramp were Bill Evans & Keith Jarrett,, I'd round up a posse to find Paul Bley in five minutes or less, get him on the boat in a bigass hurry, close it on up, and tell Evans and Jarrett to head for high ground ASAP, sorry, nothing personal,, but we got all that now, plus a little somethin-somethin extra. See ya'll after this whole thing blows over and dries out!

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