Bill Evans ‘The Classic Trio 1959-1961’ 2CD (Acrobat) 4/5

First of all, it is important to stress that this is not the complete Bill Evans trio recording live at the Village Vanguard, nor the totality of the two studio albums, ‘Portrait in Jazz’ (1959) and ‘Explorations’ (1961). For the former you will have to search for the limited edition 4LP box set of the live sets, and for the latter the separate individual expanded CD versions. What this value for money 2CD does offer, however, is the original two live vinyl albums minus any of the alternate takes and the majority of the two studio albums. If you are prepared to accept those limitations, then the music is still magical in parts and for a budget price, this no frills edition will not make too much of a dent into your pocket.

The first CD is mightily impressive with some favourites of the Miles Davis repertoire, rapidly finding their way into the Evans trio repertoire. These include the reflective, ‘Blues in Green’, a lyrical ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’, and an appealing alternative to both the Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis versions of ‘Autumn Leaves’. The tempo shifts upwards on the second album with ‘Nardis’ and ‘Israel’, which are both outstanding interpretations. If anything, the music on the second CD as a whole is marginally superior, with a superlative take on Gershwin’s ‘My Man’s Gone Now’, another excellent reworking of a Miles original, ‘Milestones’, and a second take of Evans’ own ‘Waltz For Debby’. Rounding off proceedings are two fine ballads, ‘My Foolish Heart’ and Rodgers and Hart’s ‘My Romance’. As a whole, this may not be for Bill Evans completists who will already possess these sides and much more besides. However, for the newcomer to Evans’ craft, they will still form an essential part of any self-respecting jazz fans collection and are strongly recommended. Historically, the live recordings are especially important in that they were the very last demonstration of the classic trio in action before bassist Scott LaFaro lost his life in a car accident.

Tim Stenhouse