Song 287: Bill Evans Trio, “Autumn Leaves” (1960)

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That up there is one of my all-time favorite album covers. First of all, it’s pretty funny; Bill Evans looks like a parody of a Serious Person. I also love the color palette of browns, blacks, and golds (with that surprising splash of blue). And more than anything, I love that it looks like a record. Something about it makes it looks like it belongs only on an LP.

Bill Evans was only eight months removed from his work on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue when he made Portrait in Jazz, which means he had an incredible year or so. Kind of Blue is obviously a landmark jazz record, and Evans’ record is just flat-out great, with the bandleader’s nimble fingers dancing over the piano keys and drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro providing subtle, confident support.

It’s LaFaro I notice most on “Autumn Leaves,” even more than Evans’ typically beautiful playing. LaFaro cheekily walks all over this thing, especially in the beginning, when he plays syncopated notes on off beats, like he’s trying to confuse his band members. This interaction—LaFaro skipping from note to note, Evans and Motian steadily holding the line—is typical of Portrait in Jazz, an album that delights in sounding simultaneously buttoned-up and ready to break rules.

Bill Evans may have been his trio’s leader in name, but the group was a true ensemble.

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