Paul Bley: Floater

First of all, I'm completely addicted to this melody, even though it only lasts 20 seconds. I love the way the the same basic musical idea is used in three different registers of the piano, with slight variations. And the solo is just incredible. So much rhythmic and melodic freedom, so much possibility. So far ahead of its time.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Closer

A masterpiece. Bley starts by creating these crystalline sound structures which hang uncertainly in the air and gradually fade. Some might say that he's using a lot of space and silence, but it seems more precise to say that he's playing with duration and decay. Later in the track, a number of unexpected and beautiful things happen: a singing baritone melody emerges in the left hand; a shimmeringly watery interlude follows; then the rhythm slowly grows more insistent and is punctuated by some Henry Cowell-esque extended piano techniques; next, the bottom drops out and there is a disorienting passage where his left and right hands search for one another in the upper register; finally, the questioning melody from the beginning returns. To me, this is alchemy: improvisational solo piano music distilled to an essence.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tony Williams Lifetime: Vashkar

Tony Williams Lifetime sounds like it was recorded in a cardboard box. The poor sound quality of this band's recordings, especially Emergency, has become legendary in the fusion archives. But there is an accidental immediacy about the flawed recordings that gives this music a vitality above and beyond that a pristine master tape may have offered. You can picture this loud, distorted and wild performance taking place in your basement in 1969, recorded onto your portable cassette deck. You could imagine it was like hanging out with a futuristic punk rock band that could really, really play. (And thank God …did not sing.)

Carla Bley's "Vashkar" is quite a jaunt. The melody of the piece is an ascending riff followed by its near opposite descending riff. Young has his B-3 growling throughout as Williams chugs along at breakneck speed. McLaughlin is most effective playing the theme in unison with Young. The electric trio relentlessly pushes this piece through a small crack in the wall, causing a large fissure. The momentum cannot be stopped. Nonetheless, they do stop it on a dime to end things. You want more. But they are on to the next challenge. This is essential listening for anyone wanting to understand fusion music in any way.

December 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Batterie

Carla Bley has had a career-long flair for writing theatrical pieces that sometimes sound like they should accompany silent movies. Her compositions can project absurdity and somberness, often in the same song, whether rendered by a full orchestra or a small group.

Even in a 5-piece outfit playing unrestrained jazz, this quality shines through, as it does for "Batterie." The frantic theme is not dissimilar to one Ornette Coleman used years later for his "Happy House," and once the formalities are done, listeners are assaulted with a fierce, one-two punch from the Sun Ra Arkestra's Allen and Johnson. The leader responds with some oddly rolled chords and fragments in pensive counterpoint to the savage horns. Meanwhile, Graves is a one-man wrecking crew on his kit, doing the work of two drummers at twice the speed. Gomez does well just to keep up with everyone else.

Who says there's no drama in free jazz? There's plenty to be found in "Batterie."

November 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden: Too Late

This 1983 release is the first reunion of the Liberation Music Orchestra, Haden's influential large ensemble that released its only previous record in 1969. This time combining traditional folk songs with original compositions from Haden and Carla Bley, Ballad of the Fallen is a more subdued, introspective release than its predecessor. "Too Late" features Haden and Bley in simple, striking dialogue for its first 5½ minutes. All other musicians then enter to build to a climax throughout the remaining three minutes, and it is only at that moment does the listener realize that Haden and Bley had been gradually building intensity throughout their musical conversation. A delicate work of improvisatory art, which has come to be expected at the highest level on Charlie Haden's recordings.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden: Ida Lupino

The 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival honored the career of bassist Charlie Haden by inviting him to lead a different group on each of the festival's eight nights. Drummer Paul Motian joined Haden for four of the eight performances, including the reunion of the Liberation Music Orchestra to conclude the festival, as well as trio performances with Geri Allen, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Paul Bley. While Haden, Motian and Bley had all crossed paths frequently in various groups throughout each of their storied careers, the opportunity to perform as a trio was a rare one. Each of these musicians' similar styles of giving, introspective minimalism makes for a tremendous example of sympathetic, melodic free jazz. "Ida Lupino," a Carla Bley composition that is a common "call" from Bley and Haden, is the highlight of highlights from this tribute set.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Syndrome

The words "lyrical" and "Free Jazz" rarely appear in the same context. Indeed, perhaps only in a Paul Bley review. An early Free Jazz convert, Bley gigged in 1958 with Ornette Coleman & Don Cherry at L.A.'s Hillcrest Club, where crowds milled outside an empty house waiting for the band to stop playing so they could go in and have a drink in peace. Here, Bley and bird-of-a-feather Swallow from the similarly Free and unpopular Jimmy Giuffre 3 are joined by the remarkably musical LaRoca for an intriguing composition by Paul's then-wife Carla. Their inventiveness and, yes, lyricism, are extraordinary.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre: Jesus Maria

After his evocative folk-jazz signature piece "The Train and the River" graced both The Sound of Jazz telecast (1957) and the film Jazz on a Summer's Day (1958), Jimmy Giuffre grew restless. Supplanting accessibility with abstraction, Giuffre symbolized jazz's final, fateful segue from popular entertainment to niche art. Carla Bley's gentle "Jesus Maria" is a transitional piece, taking Giuffre near the avant-garde's precipice without plunging over. (Free Fall would come soon, both as album title and career description.) Lovely, lyrical, yet at times skirting atonality, "Jesus Maria" is a snapshot capturing an artist's past and future in one fascinating moment.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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