Acoustic Sounds

Bill Evans

Waltz for Debby



Label: Craft/Riverside

Produced By: Orrin Keepnews

Engineered By: Dave Jones

Mastered By: Kevin Gray

Lacquers Cut By: Kevin Gray

By: Fred Kaplan

July 9th, 2023





The Best-Sounding "Waltz for Debby" Ever

Bill Evans' classic gets an old-new sheen

When I opened the package that contained this album, I rolled my eyes and said, “Just what the world needs, another audiophile reissue of Waltz for Debby.” But on a few seconds’ reflection, I dropped my cynicism. The previous reissues, on vinyl anyway, were either out-of-print or available only as part of an enormous, expensive 11-album boxed set, so, yes, this is at least one of the things we can welcome to the world with joy.

 Waltz is the best album in Bill Evans’ vast discography; it’s one of the best-sounding live jazz albums, period; and—here’s the news—this latest edition, released by Craft Recordings as part of its Original Jazz Classics series, is the best-sounding of all the pressings.

 Evans was 31, drummer Paul Motian was 30, and bassist Scott LaFaro was 25 when they stepped on stage at the Village Vanguard in June 1961 to record this wondrous set. Already, they had made their marks as something new: Evans, a pianist who seamlessly combined classical harmonies (especially Ravel) with jazz rhythm and a novel style of improvisation; the threesome, not the usual piano-backed-by-bass-and-drums but a true trio, an isosceles triangle of musicians playing off one another with equal force, Evans coaxing complex but gorgeous chords from the keyboards, Motian brush-slamming the drumkit with off-kilter polyrhythms, LaFaro not just anchoring time but plucking countermelodies like no bassist ever heard before at the time. (His good friend, Charlie Haden, was doing something similar with Ornette Coleman but not quite as vibrant.)

 LaFaro died in a car accident just days later. (Evans, devastated, wouldn’t lead another recording date again for more than a year.) Waltz for Debby was the second album released from the session. Sunday at the Village Vanguard came first because its tracks contained the best bass solos, and Evans meant the album to memorialize LaFaro. But he and the producer, Orrin Keepnews, soon realized that most of the best material overall was still in the cans, so a half year later came Waltz for Debby—and, though Evans never lost his greatness, this still epitomizes his sound, the unique touches he brought to jazz, and the (much-imitated) innovations in his concept of the piano trio.

 The album is also one of the most thoroughly accessible jazz masterpieces: the tracks are standards (except for the title tune, which Evans wrote, and it quickly become a standard), they’re melodic, romantic, wistful, and swinging—yet the playing is inventive enough to startle the most entrenched aficionado.

 But the sound, you may be asking, what about the sound? Analogue Productions’ HQ-180 pressing, mastered by Doug Sax and released in 1992, has been the sonic standard-bearer till now, especially for capturing the thwack and sizzle of the bass and the drums. Just mind-blowing! In 1997, Analogue Productions released a 45rpm boxed set of Evans’ complete Riverside recordings (11 albums, 22 slabs of vinyl, all from the original analog tapes), and that pressing of Waltz for Debby, mastered by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman, surpassed Sax’s version for the piano’s glow and the overall ambience but fell short of the bass-and-drum’s excitement.

 When I reviewed the boxed set for Stereophile in 2017, I tried to plumb the reasons for this difference. Chad Kassem of Analogue Productions told me he recalled Sax working very hard on the ’92 master. He didn’t remember what the issue was (and Sax wasn’t available for questions, having died long ago). But it’s my guess that Sax goosed the EQ on the bass and drums, both of which are in the left channel (the piano is in the right). My theory is bolstered, a bit, by Krieg Wunderlich, who mastered Mobile Fidelity’s 45rpm pressing of Evans’ Sunday at the Village Vanguard, which came out shortly before the latest edition of Kassem’s boxed set (the first, pressed at Pallas was a 2010 release). Wunderlich recalled having to set up the machines “asymmetrically,” in order to balance the left and right channels. Maybe that’s what kept Sax busy, and maybe as part of the rebalancing he boosted the treble. That may be what’s energizing Motian’s cymbals and LaFaro’s pluckings.

 Kevin Gray, who mastered the new Craft pressing, has vastly upgraded his mastering gear in the last few years, and maybe—I’m still speculating here—this allowed him to make the bass and drums sound exciting without having to boost the treble. Certainly the wood resonance of the bass and the airy whoosh of Motian’s brush-on-snare strokes are warmer and clearer—I’ve never heard every note that LaFaro plays as clearly as I’m hearing on this pressing. There’s a moment on the title tune when LaFaro plucks the hell out of a bass string. It’s hair-raising on Sax’s pressing—the transient is so sharp, so real. On the new Craft pressing, the moment is just as sharp and exciting, the pluck is still palpable—but it doesn’t stick out so much, it’s of a piece with the whole bass instrument, which is equally real.

 One way to say this briefly: The Sax pressing sounds more hi-fi (in a very good sense); the new Craft pressing sounds more like a live set at the Village Vanguard.

 Craft’s Original Jazz Classics series marks a revival and modernization of the OJC series started by Fantasy Records back in 1982. The major labels had largely abandoned new jazz, so Fantasy Records started reissuing titles (eventually more than 800) from the inventories of the labels that it had bought up—including Prestige, Riverside, Contemporary, Galaxy, and Pablo—replicating the original covers and liner notes. I bought dozens of OJCs back in the day—they filled many gaps in my jazz education—so it’s a pleasure to see Craft bringing back some of these titles, this time mastered from the original analog tapes and stamped on 180-gram vinyl. Evans’ Sunday at the Village Vanguard will be out soon. If Waltz is any indication, the whole line will be worth watching and buying quickly before they sell out.

Here's a later performance with Chuck Israels on bass. No less enthralling.

Note: this is not a limited edition release! The Craft website may say "sold out" but retailers should have stock and Craft assured Tracking Angle that if the supply runs out it will press more!

Music Specifications

Catalog No: CR00617

Pressing Plant: RTI


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-07-09 08:32:35 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    OK, even after expressing my disappointment elsewhere that Tracking Angle does not have a uniform standard for sonics scores, I can't pass up an 11, especially with your beautiful, well substantiated review. Also pleased that they were able to beat the 45 using the easier 33 format. Just ordered it--thanks!

    • 2023-07-09 10:30:59 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I concur with Fred’s review.

  • 2023-07-09 10:41:21 PM

    bwb wrote:

    sold out.

    • 2023-07-09 11:49:30 PM

      Anton wrote:

      Audio Advisor has some! I picked one up today, thanks to this great review!

      • 2023-07-09 11:56:08 PM

        bwb wrote:

        I think you mean Acoustic Sounds. Audio Advisor doesn't sell records

        • 2023-07-10 11:54:23 AM

          Anton wrote:

          Ha! Yes! Stupid "A" words confounded me, again. Thank you! I'll need a Kirmuss treatment to clean the egg off my face.

    • 2023-07-09 11:49:33 PM

      Anton wrote:

      Audio Advisor has some! I picked one up today, thanks to this great review!

    • 2023-07-10 01:42:02 AM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      should still be in your local shops...

    • 2023-07-10 09:28:50 AM

      PeterG wrote:

      I usually try to buy local or from the online specialists, but Amazon still has them

    • 2023-07-10 02:23:47 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Craft is currently out but stock should be available elsewhere and this is not a "limited edition" release. A Craft spokesperson says it will press additional copies if it sells out.

      • 2023-07-11 03:53:41 AM

        Kim Petersen wrote:

        And even then it probably won't reach European dealers, can't see that should have had it.

        • 2023-07-11 04:53:51 AM

          Jonti Davies wrote:

          Readily available here in Japan, so it is at least being exported somewhere.

          • 2023-07-11 08:34:42 AM

            Kim Petersen wrote:

            Seems some smaller dealers are receiving it, and it is not too overpriced, will give it a go.

          • 2023-07-11 10:41:05 PM

            Michael Fremer wrote:

            I’ll have your story posted soon!

  • 2023-07-10 06:37:41 AM

    James Ellis wrote:

    Great review, but I wish I hadn't read it. I have the Doug Sax 92 version and the 45rpm Box version. My initial take was that I am all set and really don't need another copy. Then I read this....

    • 2023-07-10 10:20:05 AM

      bwb wrote:

      Unless I misinterpret what is being stated, the comments about previous versions are from memory including a review from 6 years ago. Maybe this was done and I just missed it, but It would be nice to get a review from someone who sat down and compared these rather than going from what they remember. Systems change, hearing changes. I'm sure it is a fine version but a bit skeptical about declaring a version the "best ever" without a direct comparison.

      • 2023-07-10 10:43:40 AM

        Fred Kaplan wrote:

        You misinterpret. I DID listen again closely, to tracks from all three pressings, just before writing this review.

        • 2023-07-10 01:53:10 PM

          bwb wrote:

          thanks for clearing that up for me,

          • 2023-07-10 02:25:05 PM

            Michael Fremer wrote:

            I listened to my '92 edition and the 2010 box set too. I concur with Fred's review.

            • 2023-07-16 02:20:56 PM

              Hooman R. wrote:

              How does it compare to an OG? I have a 63 mono?

  • 2023-07-10 08:19:06 AM

    John Marks wrote:

    All a review should be--thanks. I'd like to mention three things about Evans that might be under-appreciated. First, he had a very complete classical-piano education, to the point that his senior project for his degree was performing a Beethoven piano concerto with orchestra. Second, although Evans is a Welsh name, Evans' mother's people came from the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and therefore they were Rusyn (NOT Russian) or Ruthenian. According to one Evans biography I read, Bill Evans' mother raised him in the Eastern Orthodox church, and therefore he was exposed early on both to a-cappella choral singing, and harmonies that were not entirely Western. Third, perhaps he was just being a gracious gentleman, but supposedly Evans said that his chord voicing was inspired by listening to the piano playing of Blossom Dearie.


  • 2023-07-11 03:13:46 PM

    Jim Shue wrote:

    My local Record shop had 3 left in stock as of Monday the 10th - said they've sold 4 over the past 4 days.

  • 2023-07-13 07:29:16 PM

    Azmoon wrote:

    I have the AP Doug Sax remaster , the AP Hoffman Gray 45rpm remaster, and this new Kevin Gray remaster. While the new one sounds good, it is number 3 in this grouping. The drums are way too prevalent and the bass is also boosted on this new remaster. I disagree with the reviewer that the piano sound does not suffer because of this. It does. The Sax and the AP 45 rpm sound much more cohesive and Bill Evans piano tone is better. If you have one of these don't bother with this new one. VPI Classic 3, McIntosh C2300, McIntosh MC275 VI, various speakers.

  • 2023-10-07 07:50:07 PM

    Come on wrote:

    have all 3 mentioned releases and I also agree with the review in terms of the new ne sounding more revealing and with more prominent drums, still nice piano, but the piano sound on the AP45 is still a bit better for my taste. This matches Hoffman‘s focus as he always tries to nail the main instrument and ambiance and kind of ignores the rest if compromises would have to be made.