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Disc review: Paul Bley, “Play Blue: The Oslo Concert”

Free Jazz

Paul Bley

Play Blue: The Oslo Concert


Three stars

Paul Bley will be 81 in November. He’s as much, if not more, of a jazz original now as he was 50 years ago. No one’s ever going to think of him as a jazz pianist with the popular appeal of, say, Monty Alexander or Oscar Peterson or early Ramsey Lewis or his early ‘70s brother in re-inventing solo jazz piano, Keith Jarrett. But both Bley’s history and musical mind are formidable.

In his 20s, he played with Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. His label, Improvising Artists, was the first to record – are you ready – Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorious.

And his 1972 solo piano disc “Open, To Love” – from a period, he’s recently joked, where he was “trying to be the slowest pianist in the world” – was delicious stylistic counterpoint on ECM to the filibuster that Jarrett was quickly making out of the pithy solo piano revisionism of Chick Corea.

Here, recorded live in a 2008 Oslo concert is Bley 56 years after “Open, to Love,” a concert of improvised pieces in typical Bley style, i.e. jazz classicalism, like stream of consciousness pseudo-Debussy mixed with Bartok. It’s full of ideas (would you believe, at one point, an upside down allusion to the James Bond theme) and periodic excursions into abstract tumult that beautifully circle in on itself before closing with an atomized fantasia on Sonny Rollins’ “Pent-Up House.”

Listen to this disc a few times, if you can. It’s a great jazz pianist playing for you how he was never pent up in anyone’s house in jazz – how he became a great and thorny and weirdly lovable jazz maverick in his old age, a kind of link between Bill Evans and Cecil Taylor.

– Jeff Simon