BILL EVANS TRIO Waltz For Debby (Analogue Productions)
Intrigued by the album’s critical reputation and the presence of “Kind Of Blue” pianist Evans, I first heard “Waltz For Debby” a dozen years ago on CD and quickly dismissed it as insubstantial supper club jazz, “quiet, pleasant cocktail music” as the sleevenotes self-deprecatingly describe it. The second time I played “Waltz For Debby”, in the form of Analogue Productions’ 180 gram vinyl reissue, it took three tracks for me to stop gazing, dumbfounded and slack-jawed, at the space between my speakers and apply my attention to the sleevenotes. What’s changed?
Well, I’m a little bit older and a little bit wiser, and hopefully my tolerance for music that doesn’t immediately appeal has increased accordingly. The lion’s share of the difference, however, is probably due to the fact that this “Waltz For Debby” is one of the most astonishing sonic treats I’ve ever clapped ears on, recreating for your listening pleasure the sound of three highly talented jazz musicians playing The Village Vanguard, New York one Sunday in June 1961, as patrons chatter, glasses clink and cash registers ring around them. Perhaps Paul Motian’s cymbals are a little sizzly in places, but otherwise this is real music and atmosphere writ large, one of those experiences where listening becomes an absolute privilege. To think that there are potentially even finer-sounding versions of “Waltz For Debby” in circulation – Analogue Productions also produced a 45 rpm version, long sold-out, and the album is also part of The Tape Project’s valiant efforts to resurrect reel-to-reel as the ultimate high-resolution format – boggles my blown mind.
So, having established that “Waltz For Debby” is an utter auditory delight, what of the music? Well, it’s one of the most delicate, unforced group recordings I can think of. This trio can swing (hear the title track for evidence), but it’s in tackling less obvious material that they really display their chops. “Detour Ahead”, for example, is a tune so wispy and delicate it barely has any forward momentum, its long melodic lines coiling like cigarette smoke in the air; tough stuff to make compelling listening out of, but that’s what Evans’ trio achieve. Even finer is a delicate reading of “Milestones”: stripped of the brazen, brassy swagger of Davis’ original, it captivates rather than dominates, a mesmerising, glistening achievement. Of particular note throughout the album is the luscious, liquid sound Scott LeFaro conjures from his bass; clearly important in providing timbral interest within a small group setting, his work is almost sculptural.
Fabulous music and a demonstration-class recording and pressing, if you’ve tried and failed with “Waltz For Debby” in the past, this might be the reissue that convinces you of its greatness.
BILL EVANS TRIO Sunday At The Village Vanguard (Riverside)
If “Waltz For Debby”, also drawn from recordings made at New York’s Village Vanguard on June 25, 1961, concentrated on the more ballad-based, easy listening end of Evans’ repertoire, “Sunday At The Village Vanguard” represents the more upbeat, swinging side. Perhaps this was an inevitable result of Evans and producer Orrin Keepnews’ intent to fashion a memorial to bassist Scott LaFaro, killed in an auto accident ten days after these recordings were made: the album is bookended by two of his compositions, and he solos on the other four selections. For me, though, something about this deliberate segregation renders this a less involving album than “Waltz For Debby”; it has its moments, of course, especially on the ballads, but some mysterious something is missing.
A plaintive “My Man’s Gone Now” stands out, and a cover of Miles’ “Solar” works up into some sprightly flights of melodic fancy. “Alice In Wonderland” is a trickily intricate and endlessly fascinating reworking of a Disney tune that some might regard as too trivial to warrant the trio’s attention. “All Of You”, on the other hand, is presented as an x-ray of the original, stripping out the familiar melodic structure and riffing on the bare bones beneath, LaFaro’s bass work sounding almost forensic here.
Sonically this absolutely standard 140 gram pressing gives very little away to Analogue Productions’ stunning 180 gram “Waltz For Debby”. However, that reissue’s Achilles heel – Paul Motian’s spitty-sounding cymbal work- is exacerbated to the extent that at times it sounds as if somebody’s soloing on a deep fat fryer.