Bill Evans, 1929-1980, is recognized as one of jazz music’s most influential pianists of the post-World War II era. His improvisational excursions and interpretations of various melodies would influence several generations of jazz musicians.
His career began as a teenager and, after a stint in the military, he found himself performing with such musicians as Charles Mingus and Art Farmer. During 1958 he became an important member of the legendary Miles Davis Sextet.
He formed the Bill Evans Trio during the late 1950s with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. They would issue two studio and two live albums together. Both live albums would be recorded at the Vanguard Theater on June 25, 1961. Ten days later LaFaro would die in an auto accident, bringing to a close one of the more creative and influential trios in jazz history.
Explorations was released in 1961 and was the second of their two studio albums. It now returns as a part of The Concord Music Group’s ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series. The album’s sound has a clarity not found on its previous incarnations. While the original liner notes have been retained, a new essay by Ashley Kahn sheds new light onto the album’s creation. A number of bonus tracks are also included. Alternate takes of “Beautiful Love,” “How Deep Is The Ocean,” and “I Wish I Knew” demonstrate the improvisational nature of the Trio, as they are different from the tracks that were used on the original release.
The Bill Evans Trio was unique at the time as all three members would improvise together, rather than one after the other as was the norm at the time. While the three musicians had different approaches, they still stayed in touch with a song’s melody. Evans remained attracted to melodies and the lyrical qualities of music throughout his career, which is why he covered so many jazz classics and songs from The Great American Songbook.
The core of the album revolved around a number of older tunes. The Irving Berlin tune, “How Deep Is The Ocean,” the Judy Garland vocal classic, “Beautiful Love,” and the rarely recorded and simplistic “Haunted Heart” all had melodies that were good taking off points for the Trio.
There were also a number of jazz tunes of the day. “Elsa” was an Earl Zindars composition that was making the rounds at the time. It remains one of the more beautiful covers in the Bill Evans songbook. “Israel,” written by John Carisi, was covered by Miles Davis during the late 1940s. It was an odd but inspired choice as the album’s first track, as Evans moves it out of its bebop roots. The most interesting track was Miles Davis’ composition “Nardis.” It was a complicated piece that Evans pulls apart and then reconstructs.
Explorations is an essential album that finds one of jazz music’s legendary trios at the height of their creative powers. While The Bill Evans Trio would shortly be lost to music history, they left behind this lasting memorial to their talent.