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Jazz - Released March 28, 2014 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Hi-Res Audio - Sélection JAZZ NEWS
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Jazz - Released June 1, 2012 | ESP-Disk

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
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Jazz - Released May 31, 2019 | ECM

Booklet
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Jazz - Released June 12, 2007 | ECM

Fully 35 years after Open, to Love, Paul Bley's seminal solo piano recording for ECM (which stands as a watermark both in his own career and in the history of the label -- i.e., unconsciously aiding Manfred Eicher in establishing its "sound"), the pianist returns to the label for another go at it on Solo in Mondsee. Recorded in Mondsee, Austria, in 2001, and not issued until Bley's 75th year, these numbered "Mondsee Variations" were played on a Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, an instrument that is, like its player, in a class of its own. Bley moves through ten improvisations lasting between two and just under nine minutes each. His range of thought, instinct, and motion is staggering. In a little over 55 minutes, he combines melodic and abstract notions of jazz and blues (especially on "VII" for the latter), ghost traces of popular song from the 1930s to the present, various folk musics, contemporary classical ideas, and reflections on the art of improvisation itself. This set isn't about flash, nor is it about transcendence. It's about the investigation of space, and the arrangement of music within it. While Bley has recorded other solo albums in the last 35 years, none is more diverse and tender in its sparseness than this one. His sense of detail is also his sense of economy on the instrument, which is graceful and elegant, rarely simply "percussive." In this manner Bley is a poet of sound. He pushes a line only as far as the extension of his own "breath," as the late poet Charles Olson put it regarding written language. Where the writer felt compelled to use the "/" symbol as a way of creating a break, Bley is not so specific; he is not interested in being a celebrated "technician." He pushes the line in any way that suits the idea at hand, which in turns suggests others; he allows room for its reverberations and trace echoes to inform each following sound, creating song from silence, lyric from air. His vast knowledge of musical forms is never knotty or purely intellectual; there is a great deal of emotion put into -- and coming out of -- each and every piece; the harmonic reflections on "IV" and "V" are particularly beautiful in very different ways. There is a wall that writing about this music presents; there is only so much explaining to do, because there isn't a written language that can even hope to convey this except poetry itself, and even there, it falls short. For anyone who has ever wondered about Bley and his amazing 60-year career in jazz, or for anyone interested in either the piano or improvisation, this recording, like its predecessor, will mystify, delight, and satisfy in ways that cannot really be imagined until Solo in Mondsee is actually encountered. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released September 2, 2016 | ECM

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Jazz - Released November 4, 2008 | ECM

Despite the fact that pianist and composer Paul Bley had been a renowned and innovative jazzman for nearly 20 years, 1973 saw the release of his most mature and visionary work. This is one of the most influential solo piano recordings in jazz history, and certainly one that defined the sound of the German label ECM. Consisting of seven tracks, five of which were composed by Carla Bley (his ex-wife) and Annette Peacock (soon to be his ex-wife), and two originals, Bley showcased his newfound penchant for the spatial pointillism and use of silence that came to define his mature work. In Carla Bley's "Ida Lupino," the pianist took the song's harmonics and unwound them from their source, deepening the blues elements, brushing the Errol Garnerish ostinato with pastoral shades and textures of timbral elegance, and reaching the tonic chords in the middle register just as he forced the improvisation just barely into the abstract with his right hand, percussively slipping in one or two extra notes to highlight the deep lyricism in the tune's body. On his own "Started," Bley illustrates brazenly the deep influences of the Second Viennese School on his sense of harmony and counterpoint. Recalling Arnold Schöenberg's solo piano pieces in their engagement of dissonance and glissando placement, it's still Bley playing jazz and improvising, vamping on his own theme while turning melody and timbre back on themselves for the purpose of complete tonal engagement in the middle register. And in Annette Peacock's "Nothing Ever Was, Anyway," which closes the album, Bley makes full use of an element he employs throughout the recording: space and its ability to create the notion of consonance or dissonance from the simplest of melodies. Here notes appear, related, but just barely, to one another in a more or less linear sequence, and Bley stretches that connection to the breaking point by using his sense of spatial relationship in harmony to silence. He elongates the tonal sustain and allows it to bleed into his next line just enough, as if it were a ghostlike trace of another melody, a another distant lyric, attempting to impose itself on the present one, though it had just since ceased to exist. Ultimately, what Bley offers is jazz pianism as a new kind of aural poetics, one that treats the extension of the composer's line much as the poet treats the line as the extension of breath. Sheer brilliance. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released November 2, 2018 | ECM

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Jazz - Released February 12, 1999 | ECM

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Jazz - Released November 25, 2011 | ECM

Ballads, which really seems to make ballads out of ballads, has been considered both worthy of hanging on the museum wall alongside the other masterpieces and being accorded special merit as the jazz record most used for background music. Since no less a genius than the great French composer Erik Satie invented the concept of background music, this might not be such a contradiction or insult. Only the short "Circles" invites a real comparison with the piano music of Satie; elsewhere you're in extremely extended territory, Paul Bley's desire to play the slowest music in history meshing with a new style of rhythm section accompaniment that sounds like everything from tuning the drums to adjusting the drapes. In the case of drummer Barry Altschul, maybe it wasn't such a new style at all. His drum solo on "So Hard It Hurts," which it isn't, is nonetheless the loudest part of the entire record, the moment where the person using the record for background listening gets up and turns it down. It also sounds very much like a showboat drum solo from a Buddy Rich-style player, just a touch more abstract, yet still building up to the big tom-tom finish. The bassists probe a bit further in their own solos, and probably feel they better, since they are often handed the solo spot after only a brief taste of Bley's piano improvising. Sometimes these sections seem shorter than they are, strangely enough, because even though they are moving extremely slowly, the pianist doesn't appear to be doing much at all. He may have figured out a way to whittle each phrase he is going to play down to its shortest form, allowing the other players ample room to comment. All this space, in fact, means a player such as Altschul has lots of room, his expressive command at the drum kit impressive to be sure. The bassists also develop ideas as if each note required a brief hang from the side of a chasm. What all this adds up to, when not shoved to the background of the listener's psyche, is a beautiful sound indeed, this album being one of several that helped establish the entire concept of the divine "ECM sound," despite actually being one of Bley's own productions. It also sounds vapid, just as the musicians, except for a smiling Altschul, look dour in the back cover photograph. This doesn't mean that the music is vapid, or that these were dour people. It is just that this album, as a document, presents a glum outlook and the energy of a comforter that has finally been tossed off the bed at one in the afternoon. Bley's requirements for a sideman to tour Europe during this period were that the individual within 24 hours in a new town be able to locate a car, a place to stay, a girlfriend, and a source of drugs, so it is obvious these were people that had fun, too. Surely it was fun making this album, but it has not proven to be an album that is that much fun to really listen to. Perhaps the music's magic is marred by the excessive echo and pristine recording quality, or maybe the playing is simply pretentious. A decision can be made at the end of the recording, if the listener is still awake. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
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Jazz - Released November 16, 2000 | ECM

Having worked early on with everyone from Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus to Chet Baker and Jimmy Giuffre, Canadian pianist Paul Bley created a solid jazz base for his own distinctly sparse and plaintive style. In the '60s he gravitated toward free jazz, but with less of the freneticism of a Cecil Taylor and more as a melancholic minimalist who would leave his mark on such introverted tinklers as Keith Jarrett. Since the dawn of the '70s, Bley has elaborated on his brand of chamber jazz via a slew of independent jazz labels, including Steeplechase, Soul Note, Owl, and hatART. But it's on the German ECM label where he has scored some of his most impressive triumphs; this 1986 session ranks high among his many solo and group outings for the label. Nicely assisted by '60s cohort and drummer Paul Motian, guitarist Bill Frisell, and saxophonist John Surman, Bley ranges wide, from his own diffusely meditative opener ("Memories") and two wintry ballads by Carla Bley ("Seven" and "Closer") to a noisy workout by Surman ("Line Down") and a mercurial swinger from Motian ("Once Around the Park"). Adding to the wealth of quality material here are cuts by Frisell and Annette Peacock. Overcast and a bit icy as one might expect, but nevertheless Bley's Fragments makes for a consistently provocative and enjoyable listen. ~ Stephen Cook
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Jazz - Released September 2, 2016 | ECM

This CD contains a series of mostly thoughtful free improvisations featuring three of the giants of the idiom: pianist Paul Bley, Evan Parker (doubling on tenor and soprano) and bassist Barre Phillips. Surprisingly enough, Bley and Parker had never played together before (although Phillips had performed often with both musicians), but they communicate very well including on the lengthy "Poetic Justice," their initial meeting. Nothing was preplanned for the set, and in general, it is very much a Paul Bley session. The emphasis is on free ballads and mood pieces with Parker sounding somewhat restrained. He actually cuts loose much more on his two duets with Phillips than he does on the trios. Although the results overall are not classic, the music never fails to hold on to one's interest as the three musicians continually think and evolve together. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released June 1, 2008 | Justin Time Records

Pianist and composer Paul Bley has been making records now for more than 50 years. His solo recordings encompass a great deal of his generous catalog. Bley has studied so many different aspects of jazz, and improvisational music both American and European, that these recordings always offer a revealing, no-holds-barred glimpse of where he's at as a musician at any given time. About Time, released on the Montreal label Justin Time, contains just two pieces: the 33-plus-minute title track and the Sonny Rollins tune "Pent-Up House," which lasts another ten. They reveal the entire range of Bley's considerable gifts as a pianist and improviser. Indeed, "About Time" literally runs the gamut of Bley's interests throughout his entire career: there is the now trademark pointillism, and improvisation that seeks elongated microtones, but that is just the beginning. The subtle expressionism he brought to listeners on his monumental ECM recording Open, to Love in 1972 is abundant here; however, this is not an introspective look at one subject but at the rainbow of musical and even philosophic ideas that jazz is able to put forth inside an improvised work. Blues, ragtime, the gorgeous and mysterious tonal investigations of Darius Milhaud and Erik Satie, and explorations of the jazz history book on his chosen instrument -- the ghosts of Jelly Roll Morton, Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell, Ray Bryant, Mal Waldron, Andrew Hill, and Randy Weston -- all leave their mark here. But Bley pulls this enormous monolith off not by merely jamming things together, but warmly and humorously incorporating his own sonic personality into each of his tropes and ideas, so that the artist shines through directly, and yes, even humbly. "Pent-Up House" comes out of the gate in the upper register of the piano, weaving blues, bop, and Rollins' sense of humor -- his work from those early days revealed a deep love of show tune harmonics and melodies. Bley moves the piece into an improvisation on the theme that is tender and poetic, and flirts with melancholy but never gets there as his left hand walks the blues in a counter-rhythm with melodic investigation to his right, which is already off riffing on the original theme and creating a spellbinding space for the listener. As he returns again to the theme, extrapolating modes and moods, he makes Rollins' hard bopper something else: a sprightly improvisation that reveals all the complexities and nuances of the composer, not just the pianist. About Time is a truly worthy and elegant statement from one of the true greats in the jazz piano lineage, and these intermittently released solo offerings of his are always worth the investment of time and money, because they open up visible but usually unnoticeable sound worlds to those who will open their ears and listen. Further, his work is never that of an artist who has arrived somewhere and remains on his plateau -- Paul Bley is always reaching for higher ground. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released October 13, 2015 | Splasc(h) Records

Jazz - Released December 31, 1985 | Soul Note

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An alarm mechanism goes off at the sight of another solo album by this artist; the acquisition of a complete collection would surely cause floors to sag. Still, the dapper Paul Bley, pipe alit, will arrive at the studio, and by the end of the day a project is completed, with attention paid to all the details that will make such an album an enjoyable, varied listening experience. "C.G" appears to have him musically gazing out the window, perhaps a needed respite after the peppy opening title tune. Fans of tango should savor that moment; it is the only example of that style on the entire album. "Woogie" literally invites the listener to a wedding, notes tossed out like rice in the opening passages. Bley digs deeper as the program progresses, with the gaze now out the window of a train, en route from gig to gig, a life of music passing by in a pattern of reminiscing. This can be heard in the references to melodies and styles, the little nuances that can peel 40 years off the music right before your ears. "But Beautiful" has just the right amount of build for a ballad, never upsetting the gentleness of its nature. The second side's opener, "Return to Love," has an amazing amount of detail and contrast; it is simply played beautifully, but appears to fade abruptly. "Bound" begins like a Thelonious Monk tune, then is abruptly abducted off to a land of more space than sound. As its two-and-a-half-minute length nervously unfolds, Bley alternates brief moments of emphasis with jewel-like chordal strokes that recall Satie. It is a wonderfully casual performance, and very deep. Elsewhere, the pianist does some interesting swing, walking with an effective kind of halting motion before flitting off into the high register as if sewing a pocket shut. True, some mannerisms reappear as if a tired mind was trying to finish a job, including a kind of hackneyed use of the sustain pedal along with ringing high notes. "Please" is extremely pretty, a nice suggestion as a track to play to lure listeners into jazz piano piece, but it also fades out. "Explain" provides the final five minutes; one can almost hear the producer mouthing "What? Another slow one?" behind the glass. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
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Jazz - Released May 3, 2019 | ECM

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1954 | Verve Reissues

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Jazz - Released January 29, 2001 | ECM

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Jazz - Released April 1, 2004 | Justin Time Records

Arguably, pianist and composer Paul Bley is at his best on his solo outings. It's not that his ensemble music is lacking in any way; it may even be more sophisticated. But in his solo settings, Bley truly allows the listener in on his sound world, his manner of lyric thinking, his conflicts, his ideas of silence and its place, and his dialogues with the music and their outcome. Nothing to Declare is his fifth solo outing for Justin Time. There are four pieces, the shortest of which is over eight minutes long. In these long solos, Bley doesn't just stretch out; he rambles across ideas in song and in musical history; he approaches concepts and techniques with the same weight he does his innate pointillistic lyricism. His engagement of the blues is everywhere present but not always apparent. His beautiful meditation on Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" cuts across notions of jazz, popular song, and classical notions, while his "8th Avenue" pays a beautiful and engrossing tribute to Fats Waller. "Breakdown" is an excursion into the intricacies of the blues, from its phraseology and tonalities to its elemental song forms and modulations. In all, Nothing to Declare is Bley's best outing for Justin Time thus far. It's simple in its presentation, but labyrinthine in its journeys. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released March 13, 2007 | Sunnyside

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Jazz - Released May 20, 1994 | Justin Time Records