• BILL EVANS - Portrait of Jazz LP
On December 28, 1959, at Reeves Sound Studios in New York, a trio recorded with Jack Higgins, a splendid sound engineer, this album, titled simply and accurately Portrait in Jazz. It's especially successful because it is really a portrait in jazz; if one day, some explorers, within several centuries, find this album, they could get an idea of what jazz is. Because it gathers all the necessary ingredients for it: swing, depth, daydreaming, freedom, ability to suggest, respect for the listener, craving for knowledge, adventurous spirit. It is both innovative and classic, respects tradition to transcend and advance. It doesn't stop at one point, but firmly anchored, continues its path towards the most absolute beauty.
This is the first of four albums by the outstanding Bill Evans trio consisting of Evans on piano, Paul Motian on drums and Scott LaFaro on bass. LaFaro's untimely death in 1961 would put an end to this version of the trio, but here he's in good form. Also, Motian's playing is just excellent. In a piano trio setting, the drummer can easily over power the mood, but Motain is delightfully understated and tasteful in his playing. More than a rhythm section to supplement Bill's fancies, it is La Faro's instantaneous urge to play high stakes poker, Motion's epileptic seizure on his cymbals, that signal to Evans that he must present a polar opposite to that canvas his dreamy peaceful tinkling.
Despite the relative lack of originals, the material is very good, giving a new life into standards like "Witchcraft", "Autumn Leaves" and "Come Rain Or Come Shine". But there's a lot to like, even if most of the songs are simple covers of popular standards, "Autumn Leaves" contains all the poetry, the melancholy, the nostalgia, that indefinable aura of Jacques Prévert's lyrics, without needing to sing it; "When I Fall In Love" transmits the illusion, the levitation, the fragility and the strength of falling in love, that magical and unrepeatable moment that elevates man above other mortal beings; "Spring Is Here" captures unbeatable the sensation of renewal, of flowering, of change of skin, of being joyfully alive. Bill's playing caught my ear more here, though perhaps that has to do with LaFaro's toned down presence. Furthermore, "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Blue in Green" contrasts to the versions recorded by Miles Davis.
All in all, Portrait in Jazz is light and frilly around the edges, but that doesn't always have to be a bad thing. Startlingly fresh re-inventions of old standards, supple and relaxed with LaFaro’s bass guiding the material every bit as much as Bill Evans' piano. There's no question that they're all great musicians. To pull off a piano trio record the band has to select the right music to play. However, with too many popular jazz standards, such as is the case for Portrait in Jazz, the album can get a little repetitive here and there.