Rather than have a group that only showcased Evans’ piano work, which is certainly impressive for its harmonies and lyricism, he set aside his ego in favor of the music and the artistry that came from a trio. Drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro weren’t Evans’ backing band; they were equal contributors to the music. All the instruments had their importance in what Evans referred to as “simultaneous improvisation,” but their playing blended together well unlike the “free jazz” that Ornette Coleman unleashed on the music world the same year.
What’s wonderful about “Explorations” is that right from the opening track, you learn what the rest of the album has in store. “Israel” is a tune that gets everyone involved both playing as a unit and performing very strong solos.
“Haunted Heart” is such a beautiful piece of music that even listeners happy in their relationships will take a moment to pause and think about the one that got away. But the listener doesn’t have long to think about the sadness of love because both takes 1 and 2 of the upbeat “Beautiful Love” conveys the joy it can bring.
The Bill Evans Trio makes every song their own even though they didn’t write any of them. “Nardis” is a Miles Davis tune, but you don’t find yourself longing for trumpet. And you wouldn’t know that “How Deep Is The Ocean?” had lyrics written by the legendary songwriter Irving Berlin because of how beautifully it is played.
The music is so good that every time I listen to it, I end up with different favorite moments. Currently, my favorite solos are LaFaro during “Elsa” and Motian cutting loose and pounding the skins on “Sweet and Lovely.” I cannot narrow Evans down to one song.
Scott LaFaro was a phenomenal talent on bass and worked exceedingly well in Evans’ structure. It is tragedy for mankind that this, the trio’s second album, was their final visit to a recording studio. Five months after making this album, LaFaro died in a car accident.