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Music Review: Scott Lafaro – Pieces Of Jade

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Bassist Scott Lafaro was already a legend at the tender age of 25, when he lost his life in an auto accident. His proficiency with the instrument had led to high profile gigs with the likes of Chet Baker, Ornette Coleman, and Bill Evans. As the years progressed, Lafaro’s style has been singled out by many key innovators, including Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorious.

Resonance Records have recently unearthed some previously unreleased Scott Lafaro material from 1960-61. The eight tracks which comprise Pieces Of Jade are definitely a mixed bag.

The first five of these cuts were recorded in 1961 in a trio format that featured Lafaro (bass), Don Friedman (piano) and Pete LaRoca (drums). The group opens the disc with the standard “I Hear A Rhapsody.” As is the case throughout these tracks, the piano takes the lead, and Scott takes a nice solo at the midpoint of the song.

There are two versions of Don Friedman’s “Sacre Bleu” included, each running a little over six minutes. The first version is played at a bit of a quicker tempo, and features a superior solo from Lafaro. Version two is a little more relaxed, but the drum and piano solos are a bit sharper than on one. Nice to have both to choose from.

“Green Dolphin St.” is sandwiched between the two versions of “Sacre Bleu” as sort of aural palate-cleanser. The trio’s version of this evergreen is a moment for Friedman to really shine. Lafaro takes about a one-minute bass solo, and LaRoca pretty much hangs back, keeping up a steady beat.

The fifth of these sessions is Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody’n You.” It is Lafaro’s turn to just play sideman here, while LaRoca gets to shine. He really lets it rip during his drum solo. All five of these cuts are excellent, and represent possibly the final unreleased material from 1961, the last year of Scott Lafaro’s life.

In 1960, Lafaro played on Ornette Coleman’s landmark Free Jazz album. But it was the posthumous release of Bill Evans' Sunday At The Village Vanguard, recorded just ten days prior to Scott's death, that he is best remembered by.

The trio of Bill Evans (piano), Paul Motian (drums) and Lafaro managed to attain an extraordinary amount of empathy in their music that night. Sunday At The Village Vanguard is considered by many to be one of the greatest recordings in jazz history.

So it was with no little anticipation that I looked forward to hearing the 22-minute rehearsal tape from 1960 on Pieces Of Jade. It features Lafaro and Evans going over “My Foolish Heart,” which was performed at the Vanguard.

While it is of undeniable historical value, the tape was obviously never stored properly and is pretty garbled. With Lafaro’s bass occupying the low end of the spectrum, his sound is tolerable. But it is painful to listen to the piano of Bill Evans, which sounds totally off-key due to tape deterioration.

Following this is an in-depth, 13-minute interview with Evans from 1966, in which he discusses Lafaro and the music they made together.

Pieces Of Jade ends with “Memories For Scotty.” This is a solo piano composition by Don Friedman, which was recorded in 1985. It is a nice elegy to a man who was taken much too early.

Taken as a whole, Pieces Of Jade is a fine tribute to the brief life of a musician who affected a great many lives. Scott Lafaro’s legacy deserves nothing less.

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