by Ms. Ann
Live at The Village Vanguard, New York, June 25, 1961 Riverside Records
Title Writer(s) Length
Gloria’s Step Scott Lafaro 6:10
My Man’s Gone Now George & Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward 6:21
Solar Miles Davis 8:36
Alice In Wonderland Sammy Fain, Bob Hillard 8:38
All Of You Cole Porter 8:29
Jade Visions Scott LaFaro 4:02
Bass – Scott Lafaro
Design – Ken Deardoff
Drums – Paul Motian
Engineer – David Jones
Liner Notes – Ira Gitler
Liner Notes, Producer – Orrin Keepnews
Photography – Steve Schapiro and Donald Silverstein
Piano – Bill Evans
My copy of this record is the 2019 Jazz Wax Records Europe press. This is a value buy, the vinyl is silent, the sound separation is excellent, and this is the only record I own that my dog, Ollie, sings to. I attribute this to the astounding fact that the record plays as if the trio is in the room with you, clicking glasses and background chatter from the others in the room with you, inclusive.
The music featured on this album is from a recording made on the last afternoon, a Sunday at The Vanguard by a jazz trio that had played together for two years. It would be the last recording by this trio as the bassist, Scott LaFaro, died in a tragic highway accident at the tender age of 25 years young ten days later. Bill Evans selected the music as a tribute to Scott, a fine musician who left behind friends who were shocked by his sudden death. Evans would take a long hiatus before playing again in December with Paul, and he would take until 1964 to form another trio.
Bill Evans wrote in the liner notes for the album Portrait in Jazz (recorded by this trio on December 28, 1959): “I’m hoping the trio will grow in the direction of simultaneous improvisation rather than just one guy blowing followed by another guy blowing. If the bass player, for example, hears an idea that he wants to answer, why should he just keep playing a background?” Evans, Scott and Motian achieved this vision. These three musicians created a style of trio playing that was democratic, empathic, impressive intuitive multi-layered interplay between each other, and the imprint of each voice being known to each other so well that improvising was telepathic. This was a new concept at the time. Up to this time, a trio featured a soloist with accompaniment. Jazz was not free of form. The norm was one person got to show off, got to throw all the sparkle prowess, while the other two provided background – rhythmic accompaniment. The way this trio plays is innovative magic.
For me, this album plays as a whole set, not a number here and another track picked from *there*. I love the flow of the music from one tune to another. The order of the tunes is very well chosen in my opinion.
The album set opens with “Gloria’s Step,” named after the sound of Scott’s girlfriend’s heels clicking on the stairs on the way to his apartment. He could recognize she was approaching long before she was at the door. This is a 20-measure long tune, the first half (5 measures each) starting out in F Major and ending in F minor, a modal mixture, F is the tonic note and LaFaro floats major 7th chords, always giving us a V-I at the end of each phrase. The second half of the tune begins with Em7/FMaj7 and goes into a harmonic sequence (Am7(b5)/ Em7(b5) and Gm7(b5)/Dm7(b5). This chord progression with its descending chord patterns, having the effect that it starts with a bright sound and works its way down to a somber mood. Evans plays the melody in short and rich phrases, as Scott is playing underneath lines of his own that exhibit independence of flow while never ignoring what Motian and Evans are doing. We then get Evans turning a solo brimming with bright lucid full chords, Evans gives way to Scott, who plays his bass as if it were an acoustic guitar, making himself home in the upper register with lightning-fast interlocutions of single string. There is a contrapuntal conversation between Evans and Scott that is underscored by the hushed dynamics of Motian’s snare.
The Soprano aria, “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy & Bess, is elevated from a cover tune to something newly intriguing. Starting with a haunting graceful modal introduction, Motian’s brushes ride the cymbals in a whisper with Evans and Scott having that conversational dialogue that is the melody, a dark modal version of the melody, a transformational sidebar journey, and returning in seamless dialogue to the original topic (tune).
Miles Davis’ “Solar,” is a jazz standard, written in C minor with four tonal centers that are: C minor, F major, Eb major and Db major. I know this, even as I listen more to Paul Motian on drums with his accents and counterpoint playing against Evans and Scott. This is a stark, minimalist sound in comparison to the first two tunes, angular and modal. It is also a true blend of three independent voices harmonizing into one.
Alice in Wonderland is a long stone’s throw hipper than the 1951 movie screen song opening. Rich, yet punctuated chords from Evans, a fascinating journey with Scott plucking away at his bass, and a return to the tune, just so you know what you just progressed through. Huzzah!
“All of You” was written by the great composer Cole Porter in 1954. Evans has a great way of playing ballads. Mortian is swishing in half time underneath him. This is a wonderful rendition of a jazz standard. Fresh.
The album ends with “Jade Visions”. For a slow-paced song, Motian is a fast chugging train underneath. That is a very interesting effect. Evans is pretty-busy and talkative also, especially in the spaces. A piece in 9/4 time, given the different presentations, the tune becomes a flow of consciousness to my ears. It is soothing, nocturnal, and passionate. It makes me feel the way I ought to after a night of conversation and drinks with my friends at the local (in my living room) jazz bar.
This is a remarkable album – one you should not live without partaking of its experience washing over you. Of course, you get to experience this album without Ollie’s singing or wagging his tail. I have faith it will still be all that for you.