Bill Evans – Portrait In Jazz ★★★★★

Poll Winners Records Bill Evans (p), Scott LaFaro (b), Paul Motian (d) plus (1 track) Miles Davis (t), John Coltrane (ts), Paul Chambers (b) and Jimmy Cobb (d).

Rec. 28 Dec 1959, 30 Apr 1960 and 2 Mar 1959

Portrait is something else. The first session with LaFaro as well as Motian was such a shock to non-free-jazz mainstream fans, and some of its spontaneous interaction so perfect, that a colleague at the time thought it must have all been written out in advance. But the tightrope act of LaFaro in simultaneously supporting and leading Evans is still a joy to hear, and in retrospect the amount of motivic development between them is often crucial to the overall effect. Evans is free to continue and extend his aggressive early work and also to develop the astringent spaciness of ballads such as ‘When I Fall In Love’ and his own ‘Blue In Green’.

The reissuer has got it right in choosing the longer mono take of the brilliant ‘Autumn Leaves’, and the addition of one Miles track doesn’t seem out of place, showing the subtly different architecture of tempo changes on all three ‘Blue In Greens’ – three, because the remaining bonus tracks are from a Birdland airshot (previously on Fresh Sound) that contains not only that tune but also versions of ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ and ‘Autumn Leaves’. And, if you think LaFaro is adventurous on the studio session, you should hear his almost Mingus-like work here.

– Brian Priestley

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