Friday, March 12, 2010

Classic Paul Bley Piano and Ensemble Reissued

Originally posted on December 12, 2008

As time passes the stature of pianist Paul Bley increases to ever higher levels. In my capacity as jazz reviewer for Cadence magazine, blog writer and as active listener I have checked out hundreds of CDs by pianists in the last several years. Although Paul’s influence has sometimes been filtered by Keith Jarrett’s adaptation of some of his stylistic traits, Bley is way up there near the top as a pianist with a continuing presence and as a touchstone for the new generation of players. His classic period style combines deep roots in modern jazz with harmonically shifting approaches, a free-floating time sense and sometimes brooding, sometimes explosive constructions of improvisatory lines.

He made two seminal recordings for ESP, one we covered in a previous entry. The just reissued Barrage, his first recording for the label in 1964, has a larger group in play and it’s an all-star cast of free players from the era. Sun Ra mainstay Marshall Allen plays an acid-tongued alto, Dewey Johnson, who was to make an important contribution to Coltrane’s Ascension, provides fiery blasts on the trumpet, and a world-class group of then-young giants Eddie Gomez and Milford Graves man the bass and drum chairs, respectively.

This is a group effort, with all contributing key moments in the maelstrom of improvisation. Paul’s then-wife Carla Bley is responsible for the pieces and they are classic. Although the album may not have had quite the impact of its trio counterpart Closer, it is an astonishingly lively performance that improves with age. This is music in and out of time. And this is music for all times. Timing out until Monday. . .

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