Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bill Evans: Sunday at the Village Vanguard

Keepnews Collection, Concord Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.7.09
Buy CD: Sunday at the Village Vanguard

If one were to list influential artists in the field of jazz, pianist/composer/arranger Bill Evans would be near the top.

A large segment of the general public doesn't know about him, because he never played with any of the “famous” bands of the jazz years, and in fact usually worked with small groups. Few musicians, however, fail to recognize his genius.

Evans, born in 1929, was playing classical piano at age 6, and he also studied flute and violin as a child. He received a degree in piano performance at Southeastern Louisiana College in 1950, and studied composition at New York's Mannes College of Music. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked in the Chicago area, then moved to — and got noticed — in the New York City jazz scene.

Miles Davis asked Evans to join his group in 1958, where the pianist remained for nearly a year. In '59, Evans formed his most innovative trio, with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums; that trio — recorded during a “Sunday At The Village Vanguard” concert in New York in '61 — is featured in this album.

It was Evans' first live recording session and initially was released on vinyl; this CD is a 24-bit re-mastering of that session.

The original LP contained six tunes; this CD retains those tracks and adds four alternate takes.

Let's face it, gang: This album is a gem.

I've never heard another trio that thinks and plays together as cohesively, and beautifully. Evans is masterful, and LaFaro is his equal. (Tragically, LaFaro was killed in an automobile accident mere months after this session, and Evans didn't play again for almost a year.)

Unfortunately, Evans left us too soon; he died in 1990 from illnesses related to excessive drug use.

Fortunately, he left an extensive discography, and this album is one of the best. Shame on anybody who doesn't partake of his genius.

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