LaFaro’s freewheeling, harmonically advanced bass style with the Bill Evans Trio (1959-1961) opened a door to a wholly new approach to the instrument that influenced a generation of players who followed in his wake—Eddie Gomez, Dave Holland, and Marc Johnson, to name just a few. While he’s most renowned for his telepathic interplay with Evans and drummer Paul Motian, the New Jersey native also collaborated with avant garde pioneer Ornette Coleman, tenor saxophonists Stan Getz and Harold Land, clarinetists Tony Scott and Buddy DeFranco, pianists Hampton Hawes and Steve Kuhn, and trumpeter Booker Little during his brief time on the planet (LaFaro was killed at age 25 in a car accident on July 6, 1961, while driving home after performing at the Newport Jazz Festival).
Five of the archival tracks here, originally recorded in 1961 with pianist Don Friedman and drummer Pete LaRoca, display LaFaro’s rich, woody tone and steady, unerring pulse as an accompanist on three standards (“I Hear A Rhapsody,” “Green Dolphin Street” and Dizzy Gillespie’s bop anthem “Woody ’n’ You”) along with two takes of Friedman’s original ballad “Sacre Bleu.” In this intimate setting, which finds LaRoca alternately cooking on a low flame with sticks and underscoring the proceedings with gentle brushwork on the kit, the trio swings in an elegant, understated fashion. LaFaro turns in some incredible solos, particularly on “Green Dolphin Street” and the second take of “Sacre Bleu,” which highlight his melodic ingenuity along with his uncanny speed and facility on the instrument. And his ability to spontaneously and effortlessly interject contrapuntal ideas against the flow of each piece marks him as a revolutionary accompanist in a piano trio setting.
The real treat here for LaFaro completists is a 22-minute rehearsal tape with Bill Evans that has the two kindred spirits finding their way together on the gorgeous ballad “My Foolish Heart.” It’s a fascinating glimpse into the creative process as we hear them stop several times to discuss their respective approaches to the tune. An added attraction is a 13-minute excerpt from a 1966 radio interview with Evans that executive producer George Klabin conducted in the WKCR studio in New York in which the pianist reminisces about the bassist whom he describes as “a constant inspiration to me.” Evans recalls the formation of the trio with LaFaro and Motian and how their talents merged and developed together quickly in a very natural way. “On our first record, which was made only after five weeks with the trio, you’ll hear a type of interplay and things which we discovered which are surprising to me today.” Evans provides further insights about the fabled Sunday at the Village Vanguard sessions and discusses the merits of a true group growing together in a sympathetic way musically. As he says, “The music exists at a level which is not at a level of awareness of the musicians themselves. It exists at a deeper level of unconscious ability.” In a word: magic.
The album closes with Don Friedman’s touching solo piano tribute to the late bassist, “Memories for Scotty.” This Resonance Records release comes in conjunction with a LaFaro biography written by his sister Helene LaFaro- Fernandez (Jade Visions, UNT Press).