Bill Evans Trio - Sunday at the Village Vanguard (1961), 5/10

This soothing, smoky sounding, yet technical performance from Evans, LaFaro, and Motian begins with a remarkable refrain on the keys before settling into its largely uniform mode of cool jazz. As far as the genre is concerned, Sunday at the Village Vanguard is inarguably affecting and a standard for live performance. It is, however, still restrained and tame just as its contemporaries are. Evans and LaFaro play with grace and Motian keeps gentle time while providing well-paced flourishes here and there. There are moments when the set perks up and presents a passionate melody before reassembling into its mellow ballads. These moments present a hollow form that does not let us relish in its space but rather insists on propelling further into its bare atmosphere. Bill Evans presents his trademark introspective style on the keys, but this does not accomplish enough to pique one’s interest to the same extent as other great jazz records of the sixties, with such an incredible output taking place at this same time. The recording sounds neat and tidy, its compositions are understated, the performances elegant, but the resulting experience prioritizes airiness and individual spontaneity over musical substance. The adventurousness takes place largely through improvisational solos that largely fall flat, something very characteristic of the time and consistent past this performance and its era. LaFaro’s death just ten days after the recording is a tragic happening that gives the record a deeper significance and a justifiably lasting reputation, especially considering LaFaro’s exceptional imprint on the album’s sound as a front man and composer. Some tracks are stronger than others, the opener and closer being two of the strongest in the mix but what amounts largely to lullaby filler in between. Regardless of its stylistic shortcomings the trio provides a great experience for those seeking passionate cool jazz and what is in effect aural solace.