Bill Evans Trio’s Seminal 1961 Live Album Sunday at the Village Vanguard Shines on New 180g All-Analog Cohearent Audio-Mastered, RTI-Pressed 1LP Edition From Craft Recordings

It’s almost an impossible task trying to “review” an iconic album like Bill Evans Trio’s October 1961 live masterpiece, Sunday at the Village Vanguard. I mean, what hasn’t been said that newbie jazz fans don’t even know? Best live jazz recording ever? Check. Symbiotic musician interplay? Check. Stunning group communication? Check. Jazz gateway LP? Check. Gamechanger? Check. Conversational performances? Check. Highly influential? Check — and mate.

I could go on, of course — but, simply put, this album is regarded as a collection of one of the greatest performances by one of the greatest pianists in jazz history, backed in what many an aficionado considers his finest trio setting. Like other key releases from that very fertile mid-20th century period in jazz — a time when legendary albums such as Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um (1959), and John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things (1961) were all first unleashed on the universe, Sunday at the Village Vanguard is a basic building block of jazz appreciation. Some might even say that if you only could own one Bill Evans album, this would be it.


No doubt a desert island disc for many fans, the sparkling new Original Jazz Classic (OJC) edition of Bill Evans Trio’s Sunday at the Village Vanguard comes to us bearing some pretty fine credentials. From official press materials on the album, we learn, “The first of two albums recorded at the legendary final appearance of the Bill Evans Trio at the Village Vanguard, these recordings have long been recognized as capturing the unique interaction that characterized the trio of Evans, [bassist Scott] LaFaro, and [drummer Paul] Motian. This new edition of Sunday at the Village Vanguard is released as part of the OJC Series and is pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI with all-analog mastering from the original tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio.”

Craft Recordings’ reboot of the respected OJC brand — and its overall aesthetic — makes good sense on many levels, especially given this LP’s $38.99 SRP. (More on that in a moment.) For those not familiar with what the OJC brand was all about back in the day, the following paragraph, also culled from the official press materials, explains the history of the product line as follows: “In the ’80s and ’90s, OJC became the go-to imprint for jazz reissues on vinyl, CD, and cassette. Its extensive catalog not only boasted some of the most important albums ever recorded, but also long-out-of-print favorites — all of which featured original cover art and liner notes, as well as superior audio. Original OJC vinyl pressings are still praised and much sought after by jazz fans and audiophiles alike, who have gone to great lengths to document and share how to find the best-sounding pressings. However, with the relaunch of Original Jazz Classics, there is no need to search any longer.”

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Indeed, the storied OJC catalog has achieved its own level of reverence among collectors. In fact, jazz fans have come to rely on these pressings because of the great sound quality and generally affordable pricing. I put the word “generally” in italics in the previous sentence because, as you will soon read, that isn’t always the case these days,

While most OJC LPs I own sound pretty terrific, given they were mastered by top engineers from original analog tape sources, the vinyl itself — usually quiet — was still of standard weight. (Note that gram weight designations weren’t really a thing in promoting vinyl release back in the day.)

Also, cover-art quality frankly often left much to be desired, having been manufactured on typically thin — and, at times, flimsy — oaktag styled cardboard. These inexpensive constructs didn’t quite go very far to recapture the essence of the original releases. In defense of the series, the early OJCs were indeed intended as inexpensive catalog reissues, so keeping costs down was likely a key factor while maintaining good fidelity remained a priority. So, not a great deal of effort went into recreating the full glory of the much rarer first editions. And, for the price back then, nobody really was complaining, either. Some OJC hype stickers came with the retail price emblazoned on them — $6.98! — as seen on the cover below. Even so, at the end of the day, it was ultimately all about the music.


Thus, the new OJC series is indeed a very welcome return, now delivering the complete package of outstanding music, great sonics, and exemplary packaging that is as close to the original editions as we are likely to get — especially for an SRP under $40.

Now, if you have your mind set on eventually getting a true original pressing of Sunday at the Village Vanguard, you, as a collector, will need to be prepared to either spend some quite serious coin or — like me — invest an inordinate amount of time digging around lots and lots of record crates in dusty garage and at estate sales, funky rummage sales, squirrely flea markets, funky antiques malls, and messy thrift shops, as well as the racks of off-the-beaten-track record shops!


Consider that, at the time of this posting, there were exactly two original 1961 stereo pressings listed on Discogs in VG+ condition selling for between $550 and just under $1,400. Later stereo copies available on Discogs — circa 1966, on the green “post sale” Riverside label — range from $150 to $250. Meanwhile, the last copy sold on Popsike in 2022 went for around $200. Oh yeah, and then there are the 2017 2LP 45rpm Mobile Fidelity editions that probably sound amazing — but they come at a cost, selling for between $500 and $1,250. The 2002 Analogue Productions edition — also a 2LP 45rpm pressing — sells for between about $500 to $800. Heck, even those 1980s OJC editions are asking between $60 and $120!

With all this in mind, the $38.99 price tag for a brand new, mint condition, great sounding, lovingly produced, and close-to-the-original look/feel reproduction of Sunday at the Village Vanguard starts to feel like a total bargain — and it is.


My new OJC copy of Sunday at the Village Vanguard played beautifully, with the vinyl almost perfectly dead-quiet and transparent (more on that in a moment), and it was well-centered too. Overall, the recording sounds very nice, and while I didn’t have another original stereo version to compare it to — I own an original 1961 mono pressing that I lucked into a few years back from a fruitful crate-digging excursion — I did listen to the 1973 Milestone Records 2LP Bill Evans compilation, The Village Vanguard Sessions, beforehand.

Not surprisingly, the new OJC edition of Sunday at the Village Vanguard sounds more open, airy, and natural, delivering a better sense of the club’s ambiance, along with a clearer soundstage. The Milestone edition sounds okay for what it is — a budget line release that was part of the label’s then-popular “two-fer” series of 2LP sets — but the 1970s vinyl was already getting noisy from that decade’s oil crisis and other manufacturing corner-cutting of the era. I’m fairly sure one of the ’80s OJC pressings would sound better than this Milestone package.

For example, on the cover version of Miles Davis’ “Solar” (Side 1, Track 3), there is a much stronger presence of all the instruments with notable air around them, as opposed to the more compressed sounding Milestone version. Here, we get a much more distinctive stereo spread, and the longer decay on Paul Motian’s cymbals in particular feels truer. When bassist Scott La Faro gets cooking, his slapping on the strings is more pronounced and emphatic. True, you’ll hear this on the Milestone version, but it’s not as detailed and realistic. The new OJC version does a better job of capturing the woody, warm feel of a big stand-up bass in a small club environment (especially if you are sitting near the stage).

I really enjoyed Motian’s drum solo toward the end of “All of You” (Side 2, Track 2), which he played with brushes — his smack on the drumheads is super natural-sounding, and you can almost feel the flex of the drumheads against the brushes and the drum itself resonating accordingly. This is especially remarkable for a 62-year-old live recording, when you stop to think about it. For what it’s worth, my 1961 mono pressing does not display quite the same level of detail as the stereo edition does. It’s a different listening experience, for sure.

There are many other such moments, but I think you get the idea this version of Sunday at the Village Vanguard is a fine recording presented in an exemplary manner. The only ding I have here, which I hinted at earlier, is fairly minor, but I have to mention it. At the very end of a side, just as it was getting to the runout groove/deadwax, I heard some significant surface noise just as the needle was running out of the end of the last track, which kind of breaks the trancelike spell of the music, in a way. I’m not sure why this happened, but it is there on my copy of the album. That said, it’s not a huge dealbreaker for me, and hopefully, it is just an anomaly unique to my copy — but I felt I needed to at least mention it.


As far as the numeric ratings go, I’ve given the Music an 11 and the Sound a 9. Now, you might ask, “So why not give it a 10 if you like it so much?” Well, I admittedly haven’t heard the 2017 MoFi One Step or the 2002 Analogue Productions 2LP 45rpm edition, nor have I experienced every other version of the album that is out there — and, believe me, there are many other editions from around the world. So, it is a little difficult to say this is the definitive version at the present time, but I do think it is very, very good, if not excellent, especially for the $38.99 price point. Giving it a 9 Sound rating leaves future wiggle room for it to go up a bit if some future edition we haven’t imagined yet appears. Anyone ready for a one song per side, 250g 3LP 78rpm edition? Just kidding — for now, at least.

So, yes, Bill Evans Trio’s Sunday at the Village Vanguard is indeed a legendary album finally being given its proper due with a high-quality, historically reverential reissue that won’t break the average record collector’s budget. If you don’t own this album yet, or simply want to upgrade from one of the many prior editions out there in the marketplace, this new Craft Recordings Original Jazz Classics edition of Sunday at the Village Vanguard seems like an obvious choice for most listeners and fans of the artist alike. You really can’t go wrong here, so I say go get yourself a copy of it today.

(Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.)

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180g 1LP (Craft Recordings/Riverside)

Side 1
1. Gloria’s Step
2. My Man’s Gone Now
3. Solar

Side 2
1. Alice In Wonderland
2. All Of You
3. Jade Visions