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Paul Bley / Gary Peacock / Paul Motian

When Will the Blues Leave

ECM 2642 [56:00]

Mazatlan (P.Bley)

Flame (P.Bley)

Told You So (P.Bley)

Moor (Peacock)

Longer (P.Bley)

Dialogue Amour (Bley/Peacock)

When Will the Blues Leave (Ornette Coleman)

I Loves You, Porgy (G. & I. Gershwin/Du Bose Heyward)

Paul Bley (piano)

Gary Peacock (bass)

Paul Motian (drums)

Rec. live, Aula Magna STS, Lugano, March 1999

This is not billed as ‘the Paul Bley Trio’. Rightly so, as it is a cooperative dialogue between three masters. Yet, by the very nature of the instrumentation, the piano is foregrounded – and five of the compositions are credited to Paul Bley. Ever since I first heard recordings by Bley, as a student in the 1960s, I have regarded him as one of the major jazz pianists, more interesting than several more lauded contemporaries (it is one of my great regrets that I never managed to hear him live).

Born in Montreal in1932, Bley studied both piano and violin as a child. He later made significant contributions to jazz, from the 1950s until his last public performance in 2010 and he made an enormous number of recordings. Yet he always seemed to be somewhat overlooked by the general jazz public. I think this may have been because, musically, he was too restlessly protean. Bley constantly re-made himself musically. He had been something of a prodigy. By the mid 1940s he was leading jazz groups in Montreal. In 1950 he enrolled at the Juillard School in New York and soon found work in the city’s jazz clubs; he worked, for example, with Sonny Rollins and Ben Webster. He was, to put it mildly, working with the big boys. In February 1953 (still only 21), he accompanied Charlie Parker at a performance in Montreal. In November of the same year he made his first album (issued on Charles Mingus’s label as Debut DLP 7) – as a leader – in a trio completed by, remarkably, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey! In the next few years he worked with both Lester Young and Chet Baker. In 1957 he relocated to Los Angeles and began to work with Ornette Coleman and some of the musicians around him, notably the bassist Charlie Haden. In 1963 and 1964 he worked with both Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler. He also established himself, in Europe as well as the USA, as leader of a piano trio which variously included bassists such as Kent Carter and Gary Peacock and drummers such as Barry Altschul and Billy Elgart. But, always creatively restless, from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s, he turned to the extensive (though never exclusive) use of electronic instruments, including synthesizers (sometimes his concerts and recordings were advertised as ‘The Paul Bley Synthesizer Show’.

It isn’t, I think, necessary to follow Bley’s career any further in such chronological fashion. What is very clear is that Bley was richly grounded both in bop and earlier jazz and in free jazz, and soon had a substantial body of work behind him in more than one jazz style. It was his mastery of both ‘conventional’ jazz harmonies and his seemingly irresistible desire to experiment that made his work so individual and so uncategorizable - as can be heard on this album.

Bley, Peacock and Motian didn’t ever work together regularly or for any great length of time, but their paths often crossed. So, for example, Bley and Peacock, along with Barry Altschul, made a trio album in 1967 ,(not released until 1976, as Virtuosi – Improvising Artists IAI 373844), while Bley and Peacock made a duo album in 1989, Partners (OWL OWL 058). Peacock and Motian worked in a trio called Tethered Moon, along with the Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuci in the 1990s and made several interesting albums, such asFirst Meeting (Winter and Winter 910 016) and Chansons d’ Édith Piaf (Winter and Winter 910 048). Paul Motian appeared as the drummer on several of the discs Bley recorded for ECM in the 1980s, such as Fragments (ECM 1320) and The Paul Bley Quartet (ECM 1365). Bley and Motian recorded a duo album¸ Notes in 1987 (Soul Note SN 1987). This is by no means a comprehensive listing, but it is enough to confirm that when Manfred Eicher of ECM brought the three of them together to record Not Two, Not One in 1998, Peacock, Motian and Bley already had a pretty good idea of how they could best work together. Indeed, as far back as 1963, the same trio had recorded five brilliant tracks in New York, which were later issued as part of Paul Bley with Gary Peacock in 1970 (ECM 1003); the remaining three tracks, recorded in 1978, have Billy Elgart on drums).

The intuitive cohesion of Bley, Peacock and Motian is apparent throughout this live album, recorded during a tour the three made in connection with the 1999 release of Not Two, Not One. Reflecting the variety of musical experience these three musicians carried with them at all times, we are given one standard, Gershwin’s ‘I Loves You, Porgy’ and what one might now call a jazz standard ‘When Will The Blues Leave’ by Ornette Coleman, this having been recorded on a number of previous occasions by Bley, as well as, amongst others, by Charlie Haden and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Don Cherry, Kenny Kirkland, Archie Shepp & The New York Contemporary Five, Larry Schneider, Marc Copland, Chet Baker and, less expectedly by The Jazz Mandolin Project. Otherwise the programme is made up of originals credited to Bley or Peacock, and in one case to Bley and Peacock.

‘Porgy’ is played (beautifully) as a solo piano piece and is relatively conservative in manner, though emotionally rich – a quiet but memorable close to the set. On ‘When Will the Blues Leave’, Bley plays with a fluid intensity and rapidity that almost takes the breath away. The interplay between pianist and drummer (especially) is remarkable, though Peacock makes important contributions too. This track is a perfect example of jazz piano trio music at its very best. Two other standards appear in disguise, as it were, ‘Longer’ is based on ‘Long Ago and Far Away’ by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin (a tune the same three musicians recorded in 1963, among the tracks released on Paul Bley and Gary Peacock. Similarly, unless I am mistaken, ‘Flame’ is loosely based on ‘My Old Flame’ (by Coslow and Johnston), which Bley had previously recorded at least twice, first in 1954 on his second album, Paul Bley, first issued on LP by Wing Records and since reissued several times and then in 1988 on Live at Sweet Basil (Soul Note 121235-1). Here in Lugano, ‘Longer’ is given a lovely, affecting reading, not least in Peacock’s first brief solo; there are a few slight allusions to the original melody, but for the most part the sense is of a spontaneous musical conversation around Kern’s original chords. Motian’s subtle, unfussy and unaggressive drumming here is a masterclass in itself. On ‘Flame’ Peacock takes a particularly fine solo, during which both Bley and Motian show great judgment both in what they do and what they don’t do

Elsewhere, ‘Mazatlan’, first recorded by Bley as long ago as 1966 (issued on Ramblin, BYG 529.313) is full of minor surges and explosions amidst a general air of quietude. ‘Dialogue Amour’ (which was also recorded on Not Two, Not One, in a slightly longer version) is Bley at his most ‘impressionistic’, with Peacock and Motian doing only what is absolutely necessary. ‘Told You So’ is a lengthy (9:40) piano solo, full of the sort of dynamic contrasts which often characterized Bley’s playing and more than a few subtle changes of rhythm too. With its block chords and its subtle harmonies, the result is mildly hypnotic. Bley was to record the tune twice more to my knowledge – as a piano solo in 2001 on Basics (Justin Time JUST 154-2) and in 2007 in a duo with the Danish drummer Kresten Osgood on Florida (ILK Musoc ILK 131 CD);he found new things in it on each occasion. Peacock’s ‘Moor’ is darkly lyrical, with the composer centre-stage. (This is a piece and a performance reminiscent of the quieter end of the jazz avant-garde in the 1960s)

Anyone who admires one or more of these musicians will surely want to hear (and probably to possess) this outstanding album. For collectors of Paul Bley it is essential.

Glyn Pursglove

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