JJ 06/73: Paul Bley Quintet – Barrage / Open, To Love

Fifty years ago, Martin Davidson heard the pianist in post-Ornette mode and wandering aimlessly through his composer-wives' tunes. First published in Jazz Journal June 1973


The re-availability of the brief ESP al­bum reminds us of some of the fine music that Paul Bley was into before he concentrated on his somewhat over-precious trio and ended up connecting wrong numbers on his portable Moog telephone exchange. The format of this post-Ornette music is similar to that of bop in that there are group theme state­ments surrounding solos. There are major differences though in the apparent absence of harmonic structures and stated rhythm. Also the ‘rhythm section’ interacts with the soloist to a much greater degree than in earlier forms of jazz.

This record also reminds us of what a fine jazz composer Carla Bley was be­fore she escalated over the hill and landed on the rock as a third-rate Kurt Weill imitator. Her six tunes here set up strong directions for the band to improvise on. Of particular strength is the beautiful ballad And Now The Queen – a sort of ironed out Vie En Rose.

We are also reminded of what a fine drummer Milford Graves was, and prob­ably still is – if only we could know. The other four musicians play well, but have their dubious moments, to make this an excellent, if imperfect, example of the mainstream of jazz circa 1964.

Listening to the ECM reminded me of all those records made by aged jazz pianists who are brought to the studio in order to reminisce about the good old days and play through some of the tunes from their past. On this record, Paul Bley does not actually speak, but it is easy to imagine him talking about his composer-wives as he wanders aimlessly through their tunes. (But who would he be talking about during ‘Har­lem by Paul Bley’ which is actually Roy Eldridge’s I Remember Harlem?) May­be all this comes to mind because there is so little music passing by to engage the listener’s mind.

Of course, Paul Bley is not very aged, and hopefully is still capable of making great music. Meanwhile this extremely tedious record may appeal to those who enjoyed the other tiresome ECM solo piano attempts by Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. I doubt if anyone who has ever listened to a Monk solo on River­side or a Beethoven piano sonata or the earlier Bley trios, quartets and quintets will get any joy out of this, Bley’s first solo record.

[Barrage] Batterie. Ictus; And Now The Queen (14½  min) – Around Again; Walking Woman; Barrage (14¾ min)
Dewey Johnson (tpt); Marshall Allen (alt); Paul Bley (pno); Eddie Gomez (bs); Milford Graves (dm). NYC, 15/10/64.
(ESP 1008 £2.45)
[Open, To Love] Closer; Ida Lupino; Started (18½ min) – Open, To Love; Harlem; Seven; Nothing Ever Was, Anyway (23¾ min)
Paul Bley (solo-pno). Oslo, 11/9/72.
(ECM 1023ST £2.45)