Bill Evans Trio “Portrait in Jazz” (1960) Orpheum

PICTURES UPDATED December 25, 2018

Track Selection: “Autumn Leaves”   >

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Artists

Bill Evans (p) Scott La Faro (b) Paul Motian (d)  Reeves Sound Studios, New York; December 28, 1959 , eight months after recording with Miles Davis on “Kind of Blue”.

Extraordinary musical craftsmanship, a recording which almost single-handedly redefined the trio as an equal partnership, which deservedly elevates this record to mythic status. Not that you would know listening to the CD, which is pedestrian and entirely fails to capture the electrifying communication between Evans and La Faro. The Riverside pressing must be to die for, as close as this 1968 Orpheum reissue indicates.

Label, run-out and liner notes

Not the original Riverside, but a first US re-issue by the company that bought Riverside in 1966 – Orpheum Productions. Gone are the classic twin-reels, in their place, the tag Orpheum Productions NYC at the footer of the label. The quality of the pressing is near-outstanding, being just one step from the extraordinary quality Riverside master, but just a tad less bright, though not noticeably so.

Its main problem is one that it shares with many original Riverside pressings of Bill Evans masterpieces: sheer over-use. This music has such depth and subtlety it demands repeated playing – hence wear and tear is abnormally high. I looked at an original “Waltz for Debby” the other day in a store. They wanted £70 for it – the record sounded like Surface Noise with a Touch of Piano Trio. Horrid. This has quite a bit of noise, and some scratches that spoil a couple of tracks, but when you can listen, it is gorgeous.

I bought the CD but play them side by side and you might just as well consign the CD to better use as drinks coaster. It totally fails to capture the beauty and the liveliness of the interplay between Evans and Scott la Faro, which is the whole raison d’etre of the recording.

Scott la Faro was killed in a motor accident a short time later, dissolving one of the finest musical partnerships ever. Bill Evans Trio was not just a piano supported by a rhythm section like The Three Sounds. It was an Orchestra of the Universe.

Looks like Riverside

Collectors Notes

The vinyl of this recording – UK or US original pressing – is stupidly expensive by any normal yardstick. But Bill Evans devotees are not normal. They will simply pay whatever it takes to secure a good copy when one comes to market, which is not very often. I misjudged the market appetite – with hindsight I should have tripled my bid, you learn. Some things are just worth more than others, and Portrait in Jazz, Waltz for Debby, Everyone digs Bill Evans and Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard are it. Less to do with rarity, or collectability, and more with sheer musicality.

My Orpheum copy of Portrait cost me £40 and I felt it was too much, given the release and the condition but sometimes you have to buy it when you see it, and hope  a better copy will come along in the future. That weekend a US Riverside copy in ex condition  from a British seller closed at £240 with 15 bidders.

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=120800354548

I have seen a copy go to £380. Suddenly you know when you are batting in the wrong league.

UPDATE December 24th 2011

So who bought this record for £240? Nearly two months later the sellers feedback is still blank for this record- no feedback was given buy the “buyer”. Their buying  history contained no music or records whatsoever – merely “Vehicle parts and accessories”, on which they placed an average three bids a day. As a compulsive observer of human behaviour, I find this one difficult to call. A man pays £240 for a record on ebay but has bought no other records and seems to be a motor trader of some sort. All very baffling.

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13 thoughts on “Bill Evans Trio “Portrait in Jazz” (1960) Orpheum

  1. I have a release question on this – i recently purchased a nm/nm 1960 RLP 315 and now after researching the original 1960 mono – or atleast what people are selling as an original. I see three labels out there….a deep groove, a regular groove and a flat label – all with the same graphics – and all being sold as the original. Does anyone know which is valid…I can make my guesses.

  2. This music is holy no matter what! Wether you play it by LP or CD, if you have the right antenna to recieve it (which is doubtfull with some of these audio buffs) then a transister radio will do.

  3. I have on an audiophile Gold CD from the now gone label DCC JAZZ. It sounds spectacular! Would be interesting to compare with an early vinyl edition. If you ever find it at “normal” price just pick it up. It is currently listed at $199 to 449. Ouch! Probably won’t sell at that price but it is a desired disc nevertheless 😉

        • The theory behind gold or silver plated discs is that the surface is more reflective than aluminum plated discs, which results in the laser being able to more accurately read the disc. Of course, your mileage may vary from CD player to CD player, and how much oversampling it has. One thing I will say, I’ve had gold and silver plated discs from Mobile Fidelity and DCC, and they do tend to last longer than other aluminum CDs of the time. The gold and silver don’t corrode as fast as aluminum, which is why a lot of CD’s from the 80’s have the dreaded “CD rot”. But whether it plays more accurately or lasts longer doesn’t really matter if the mastering is poor, as another poster pointed out.

  4. A wonderful record that I’ve listened to a lot over the years. I have an early pressing of this, it was on my blog a few months ago, but as you said, it was played a lot. Though far from perfect (VG), still enjoyable in spite of the flaws. Important music…

  5. About previously available CD versions: toss them all in the bin and replace them with a copy from the “Keepnews Collection”. Sound quality of that series is simply outstanding; all releases supervised by Orrin Keepnews himself. Click HERE, scroll down a bit and read what Orrin himself says. That CD is, despite the horrible front cover, an absolute must. One last thing after I hawk-eyed your back cover: the stereo flap over is clearly visible! To get my point across, click through these three photos and you see what I mean! 😉

  6. Didn’t know you had cd’s too LJC (trying to keep it quiet eh?) I haven’t listened to any sort of vinyl for 15 years and even then it was only a cheap set-up. Interesting to hear your comparisons. I can’t imagine what proper vinyl on a great turntable must sound like, but I’m putting it on my bucket list!

    In the meantime, I’ll have to make do with putting on Bill’s Sunday at the Village Vanguard cd while reading this blog. Go la Faro!

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