Friday, June 20, 2014

Paul Bley, Play Blue, Oslo Concert

A pianist as important to the modern jazz scene as Paul Bley has been, some 50 years after he began making recordings that set out his mature, free-avant style, he could easily rest on his laurels and devote his active concertizing to recreating the music that first set him apart. That he refuses to do this, that he continues to probe and explore the possibilities he can open up now, all this is to his everlasting credit.

You can hear his refusal to imitate himself in the new release Play Blue (ECM 2373 3766190), a solo concert recorded in 2008 at the Oslo Jazz Festival.

You listen closely to the composition-improvisations and yes, you know it's Paul Bley by a few telltale phrases here and there. But otherwise he is almost made anew here. It's harmonically dense and advanced, very pianistic, and the level of melodic-harmonic invention is very high. But it's almost as if the influence he has had on pianists has become such an entity outside himself that he is responding to that presence of self-out-of-self with a new spin, a new Paul Bley.

Yes, there is that rubato expressiveness, still. But the what of the improvisations has changed. Yes, as the title of this disk implies, he has the expressiveness of the blues throughout, and sometimes there are bluesy passages per se, but even then it is a very free relationship to those roots. His playing remains as original as it ever has been, but there is a rather different Paul Bley playing now, at least on this recording. Still free, still advanced, but without the figures that in other hands have become partly cliche.

All I can say beyond that is the new Paul Bley is perhaps more deeply mature, more purely improvisatory at times, but no less brilliant, certainly. If anything, he gives us an altered brilliance that may well, 50 years from now, serve as another model for how to take it out.

In the present though this is music of inspiration, a new Paul Bley at his best. Kudos to Mr. Bley and much thanks. Do not miss this CD!

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