November 6, 2008

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Bill Evans Trio, Sunday at the Village Vanguard
Riverside Records, Sept. 23

In 1957, the Village Vanguard club in New York City tossed the beat poets and folkies out on their ears and went all jazz. Two major live engagements took place there in 1961, one by John Coltrane and the other a five-session series over the course of a day by pianist Bill Evans, backed by bassplayer Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. The tracks on this record were chosen by Evans and producer Orrin Keepnews to spotlight the playing of LaFaro — essentially Evans’ right arm at the time — who died in an auto accident 10 days after the recordings.

Another in the Keepnews Collection series of classics recently re-engineered by the 85-year-old producer himself, its intimacy runs deep, from the magnified clink of diner’s wineglasses to the rattle-squeaking of Motian’s drum-throne as he shifts his weight, and finally to the music itself, gently rendered impressionist gives-and-takes wafting out of the best lineup Evans would ever put up. Commonly regarded as one of the best jazz albums in history, this is beginner-listener-friendly, an opportunity for dabblers to investigate early modal jazz and be left dumbfounded by the gnarled, knotted block chords Evans had perfected during his stint as the only white member of the Miles Davis sextet (“Alice in Wonderland”). A+ — EWS