Bill Evans Trio Waltz for Debby

Bill Evans Trio’s ‘Waltz for Debby’ Gets Pristine Vinyl Reissue

One of the legendary Bill Evans Trio’s seminal recordings is back in circulation, with stunning sound quality and faithfully reproduced artwork.

Waltz for Debby
Bill Evans Trio
Craft Recordings
7 July 2023

Even if the only thing he was known for was playing piano on Miles Davis‘ 1959 modal jazz masterpiece, Kind of Blue (and writing the album’s “Blue in Green”, despite not officially receiving credit), Bill Evans would still be considered a legendary musician, a towering presence in jazz history. But only eight months after the recording of that legendary album, Evans was once again blazing musical trails by essentially setting the gold standard jazz trio format in motion. It was in December 1959 that Evans, joined by bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, recorded what would become Portrait in Jazz.

Evans made three more albums with LaFaro and Motian – Explorations, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, and Waltz for Debby – the latter two recorded in one day at Manhattan’s legendary Village Vanguard jazz club in June 1961. In their infinite quest for giving so much great music of all genres their proper due, Craft Recordings recently reissued Waltz for Debby on 180-gram vinyl (with a similar reissue of Sunday at the Village Vanguard scheduled for an August release).

What makes these trio recordings such an essential component of the jazz canon isn’t just how gracefully and expertly the music is executed but what a brief window of time in which the music was created. LaFaro died in a car accident less than two weeks after those Village Vanguard sessions were recorded (and only four days after he performed with Evans and Motian and the Newport Jazz Festival). LaFaro’s passing at age 25 sent Evans into an understandable spiral of grief and deprived the world of what could have possibly been a great deal more recordings and gigs from this now-legendary trio.

But the trio’s music lives on in these spectacular recordings. The six songs on Waltz for Debby are soaring, tuneful, intricate performances from three musicians that are simply on fire. Opening with Victor Young’s standard “Foolish Heart”, the tempo is relaxed and deliberate, with Evans incorporating his trademark classical motifs, Motian providing tasteful brushes, and LaFaro’s melodic yet complex bass interplaying beautifully with the piano notes. This provides a subtle contrast to the title track, with more classical themes – yet again, spiked with LaFaro’s distinct bass plucking – before the main part of the song incorporates a more era-familiar jazz tempo. Evans’ playing in the main part of this track – fluttering melodies over a supple, swinging rhythm section – can be heard in the best jazz trios that followed over the next several decades, Brad Mehdlau‘s being a primary example (anyone rightfully enamored with Mehdlau’s Art of the Trio series should get their hands on these Evans trio recordings immediately if they haven’t already).  

“Detour Ahead”, rounding out the album’s first side, is another standard that moves along on a relaxed tempo, the excitement heightened by some tremendously dexterous soloing from LaFaro (at times, it almost seems that he and Evans are playfully attempting to one-up each other, but never in a blustery, braggadocious manner). Side two opens with more gentle balladry leading to inspired swinging, this time an interpretation of the Rodgers/Hart standard “My Romance”. The pristine sound reproduction not only allows for crystal clear sonics and distinct stereo separation, the murmur of the club ambience – drinks clinking, ever-so-slight crowd voices – give a definite impression of being in that intimate Seventh Avenue venue more than six decades ago.

Rounding out the record is a gorgeous, gentle take on Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” and an intensely beautiful version of Miles Davis’ “Milestones”, a track recorded and released by Davis prior to Kind of Blue but a precursor to that classic album’s modality. In those two final tracks and throughout Waltz with Debby, Evans, LaFaro, and Motian take the trio format into a number of different avenues but never seem to hit any stylistic missteps.

The late 1950s and early 1960s were indeed a fruitful and massively influential period for Evans, as his trio recordings made (and continue to make) for an exciting, inspiring listening experience and set the tone for many jazz trio configurations to come. Anyone thirsting for more sounds from this phenomenal trio can rest assured that they won’t be disappointed when the vinyl reissue of Sunday at the Village Vanguard drops on 25 August.

RATING 9 / 10