If you've been able to listen to Alyn Shipton's Jazz Library programmes on BBC Radio 3 over the last few years, you'll probably be aware how often ProperBox collections appear as a repository of recommended recordings. With that in mind, it was great to see a ProperBox featuring the work of Bill Evans. It has frequently been noted that we're living in something of a Golden Age for the piano trio - Brad Mehldau, Marcin Wasilewski, John Law, Keith Jarrett, Tord Gustavsen and the late Esbjorn Svensson to pick a few that already feature in my collection. Well, here's one of the musicians who is surely a part of their collective DNA.
There's something about the piano trio that makes it a perfect little miniature ensemble. It sounds complete in its own right. You can listen to duos of piano with.... a variety of instruments, and I find there's always a tendency to think that it sounds great in spite of the limitations of the line-up. You can add instruments to a piano trio, such as trumpet, saxophone or guitar and they can all give an extra something, but the trio can stand on its own and doesn't need anything added. That's especially so when the pianist is someone of the stature of Bill Evans.
Much of the material in this collection features the best-known line-up with Paul Motian on drums ans Scott La Faro on bass. There are also trios featuring Motian with Teddy Kopick on bass and another with Philly Joe Jones on drums and Sam Jones on bass. Then disproving my notion about the need or otherwise of adding to the trio, there's a quartet featuring Bob Brookmeyer also on piano with Connie Kay on drums and Percy Heath on bass. The recordings date from 1956 to 1961, spanning the period when Evans worked with Miles Davis on "Kind Of Blue" and the fourth disc is taken up with live recordings from the legendary Village Vanguard set of 1961, recorded just a few days before Scott La Faro's tragic early death. This being a ProperBox, you get a complete discography giving details of the line-ups and recording dates and extensive additional notes in the 24-page accompanying booklet.
The recordings have been digitally re-mastered - very successfully to my ears. The Village Vanguard disc has a presence that sounds completely fresh. Contrast this with criticism of some of the other unofficial Bill Evans collections that you'll find for sale on Amazon.
There's a great variety of music here, with plenty of standards and tunes that you might recognize from his time with Miles. When you're listening they can each, in the moment, sound just right. So, if you want to go back to the genesis of the modern jazz piano trio, this box has it right - it really is The Way To Play.