Bill Evans Trio – Waltz For Debby (vinyl review)

Bill Evans Trio – Waltz For Debby (Riverside/Craft)

More expensive?  Yes.  Worth it?  100 percent.

Craft Recordings continue to add to their resurrected Original Jazz Classics series, featuring 180-gram vinyl, high quality jackets, and faithful reproductions of the front and back cover artwork.  This time, they’ve reissued titles from the Mal Waldron Sextet, Yusef Lateef and Bill Evans.  They sent us Waltz For Debby by the legendary Bill Evans Trio for review.

This may be the finest sounding jazz vinyl record I’ve ever heard.

The instruments leap from the speakers.  Evans’ piano is gorgeous, and those high notes are crisp, while Scott LaFaro’s bass is deep and resonating, you can hear his fingers sliding on the neck for solos, and Paul Motian’s brushwork is crystal clear.  Recorded at the Village Vanguard club in New York, you can clearly hear glasses clinking and light conversation.  I tested this new version against a DOL pressing that we had here at the office, and the results were immediately audible.  This new Craft edition makes you feel as if you’re in the club with the trio – a much wider range of fidelity. 

June 25, 1961, the Bill Evans Trio booked five concerts (each around a half hour) at the Village Vanguard in New York, with the intention of getting enough material for a new album.  Just ten days after these historic performances, bassist Scott LaFaro would perish in an auto accident.  The first album to come from this date was Sunday at the Village Vanguard.  Largely considered one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, it was assembled as a tribute to the pioneering bassist.

Waltz For Debby arrived six months later, featuring more performances from this date.  Honestly, I feel these are actually better representative of the trio as a whole.  Sunday featured a lot of LaFaro soloing, which was impressive, for sure.  But here, the trio seem more cohesive, and also it’s more of a showcase for Evans’ melodic artistry.  

The album opens with the standard, “My Foolish Heart,” and Evans begins with the familiar first few lines, but then starts to stretch the harmonics of the song.  The other two members seem restrained here – LaFaro does begin to give counterpoint to Evans’ piano about midway through, while Motian starts to make it rain with his brushstrokes.

But, “Waltz For Debby” immediately changes things – LaFaro and Evans both play notes that cascade back and forth.  After a minute, Motian gets things moving with brushes, and both bass and piano begin a dialogue – both talking at once, it is a thing of beauty. Then, Evans takes off on a solo, and LaFaro lays down a bass line, or does he?  Just when you think it’s standard jazz fare, he begins to add his own soloing that’s outside simple bass accompaniment.  Then it’s LaFaro’s turn to solo, his fluid phrasing is something completely foreign to bassists at the time.  His inspiration seems to be coming in bursts.  Then, right on cue, the band returns to the melody, just in time for a surprising ending.

“Detour Ahead” is delicate.  Enough so, that you actually hear conversation during the performance.  I love the way Evans and LaFaro work together, throwing ideas back and forth.  There’s an extended bass solo, where he runs all over the neck, up and down.

The source tape is a little mangled at the start of “My Romance,” so you hear Evans’ piano drop out slightly – this is on every release, including streaming, but it seems more apparent on this vinyl edition because everything else sounds so good.  Once this track gets going, it really swings.  It must’ve been a real thrill to be in the audience.

I love what LaFaro is doing with harmonics while Evans comps chords on “Some Other Time”; gentle and pretty.  It’s as if things could fall apart, especially without Motian, fragile, yet it all holds together.

The final track, the Miles Davis composition, “Milestones,” is not surprisingly, the most challenging piece the band attempted all day.  I love how Motian begins throwing in snare cracks to start propelling things.  A slight drop, and then Evans is off on a solo, but wait, so is LaFaro, high on the neck, frenetic.  This is the bassist’s best track here.  He’s just all over the place. 

Honestly, the fact that the crowd wasn’t reacting to this furious playing?  All I can say is that the food must’ve been really good? Or maybe they were told to be quiet?  Something must’ve been distracting them from the utter greatness on stage.   The track ends with just LaFaro soloing – like he’s not ready for the song to be over, then an audience member laughs – it’s a spontaneous moment.  

This Original Jazz Classics’ edition of Waltz For Debby is more expensive (about double what most vinyl editions run).  But, it is completely worth it – the sonic clarity: crisp highs and deep lows, make for an immersive, utterly satisfying listen.  This is the way to do vinyl right in the modern age.  —Tony Peters