Pieces Of Jade
Review by Willard Manus

It's taken me some time, but I finally caught up with PIECES OF JADE, Resonance Record's 2009 tribute to Scott LaFaro, the remarkable bass player who died tragically in 1961, when he was only twenty-five years old.

Thanks to Resonance we now have a fitting album to remember LaFaro by, one that captures him while playing in a trio that included pianist Don Friedman and drummer Pete LaRoca. The five tunes on the CD had been put together by Friedman as a demo for Riverside Records, who were thinking of signing him to a record deal. George Klabin, head of Resonance, acquired the demo in 1966 but did not think of releasing it commercially until 1985, when Friedman showed up at his home and played "Memories of Scotty" on his grand piano.

That 6-1/2-minute original composition, a moving composition dedicated to LaFaro, can be heard on PIECES OF JADE, a CD which is noteworthy for its two other unusual features. One of its eight tracks captures LaFaro and pianist Bill Evans rehearsing the tune "My Foolish Heart" together. It is both fascinating and instructive to hear these two gifted young musicians whispering to each other as they feel their way into the tune, suggesting changes and riffs the whole time.

On another, even more revealing track, Evans talks for thirteen minutes to Klabin about LaFaro. The interview was first taped back in 1966, when Klabin had a jazz show on KCRW, in Los Angeles. Evans had nothing but good things to say about LaFaro, calling him "a constant inspiration...every set I played with him was satisfying and uplifting...we had some marvelous moments together."

Evans went on to praise LaFaro's accomplishments on the acoustic bass. "He had the loudest, longest tone anyone had ever heard," he said. "His rapid acceleration of progress on the bass was remarkable, considering that he'd only started on the instrument at 17 and had played on it for six short years before his death."

Their first record together was "Portrait in Jazz." They went on to make three more albums (as a trio), each one of which is considered a jazz classic. Now we have PIECES OF JADE to join that august company. To go with the CD, Resonance has also published Jade Visions--The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro. The biography, written by Lafaro's sister, Helene Fernandez, combines family history with musical appreciation.

A portion of the profits will go toward funding the Scott LaFaro Prize, offered as part of the International Society of Bassists biennial jazz competition. (www.resonancerecords.org)