Bill Evans brought a new sensibility and fresh musical conception to jazz piano. Beginning his career in the late 1950s, his distinctive style was defined by delicate crystalline melodies and pastel-hued harmonies, reflecting the influence of classical music composers like Scriabin and Debussy as well as the bebop piano virtuoso Bud Powell. There are so many astounding albums in the prolific New Jersey pianist’s vast catalogue that choosing an entry point for an Evans newbie might seem a decidedly tricky task. In reality, though, it’s not that difficult – in most cases, just one listen to Waltz For Debby, a classic live album from 1961, is enough to make an instant believer out of most first-time Evans listeners.
Waltz For Debby is now reissued on 180-gram audiophile vinyl in Craft Recordings’ revived Original Jazz Classics series. The all-analogue mastering is by Cohearent Audio’s redoubtable Kevin Gray, whose expertise brings out every nuance and detail of the original recording taped at New York’s Village Vanguard venue on June 21, 1961. The album was the second LP that sourced the Evans trio’s legendary Vanguard performance; the first being Sunday At The Village Vanguard, which appeared first and is set to be reissued later this year.
What was significant about Evans’ Vanguard performances was the highly intuitive nature of his trio’s musical interactions. The pianist together with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian achieved a symbiotic level of interplay that took piano trio jazz to a higher, almost telepathic level. They function like a single organism, breathing, thinking, and feeling as if they were one. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the opening track, ‘My Foolish Heart,’ a Tin Pan Alley jazz standard that is transformed into a transcendent piece of improvised jazz. It possesses a fragile romantic delicacy that is simply bewitching.
Mesmerising, too, is the album’s jaunty title track, an infectious waltz that Evans wrote for his niece. And for those that contend Evans couldn’t swing, then the breezy ‘My Romance’ and his spacey take on Miles Davis’ classic modal tune ‘Milestones’ both show that he could ride a groove as well as Erroll Garner or Oscar Peterson.
In addition to the excellent sound quality, this reissue also boasts superior packaging, with the album coming in a study tip-on jacket that includes a stylish Japanese-style obi-strip. If Bill Evans is a new name to you, Waltz For Debby should be your go-to introduction to his music – and if you’re a long-time aficionado already familiar with the album, the audio fidelity of this new iteration will make a much-loved old friend sound better than ever. (You can order the album here: https://found.ee/OJC)