Paul Bley: Ramblin’

The pianist's now swinging, now lyrical 1966 New York date includes music by Carla Bley, Annette Peacock and Ornette Coleman


Any album by Paul Bley is of interest to me (and surely many others). This session from March 1966 exemplifies the maturing nature of Bley’s exploratory poetics since, say, his work in the Jimmy Giuffre trio of the early 1960s. It predates his appearance on one of the earliest ECM releases, Ballads – which was reissued in 2019 as part of ECM’s 50th anniversary, 50-item Touchstones series.

Initially released by ECM in 1971, Ballads was recorded in New York in March and July 1967. Reviewing the Touchstones series, I applauded the album’s “patiently wrought blend of spacious, intensely focused lyricism and dramatically cast yet subtle cross-rhythms and textures”.

The same must be said of the present Ramblin’, with the addition that Bley’s Mazatalon and the treatment of Ornette Coleman’s blues-rinsed Ramblin’ bring a swinging quality of sheer joy to the proceedings. It’s worth remembering that Bley had recorded Ramblin’ with the Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins quartet at the long-famous October 1958 session at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angeles, a marvellous date which remains one of the core items of post-bop / proto-free jazz. 

Ballads had Bley with the excellent Barry Altschul (d) – who would appear on some 12 or so albums with the pianist – and mostly the equally superb Gary Peacock on bass, with fellow bassist Mark Levinson appearing on one track, Circles. This ran to only three minutes so it’s a real treat to hear Levinson stretching out here. A collaborator with Bley from 1966 to 1971, the multi-instrumentalist later became what has been called “ a serial entrepreneur” in the high-end audio equipment world.

The spacious and potent trio interaction on the opening Both, an Annette Peacock piece, is simply wonderful, with Levinson’s assured intonation and dark and resonant sound compelling throughout, as also on Carla Bley’s following Albert’s Love Theme. An exceptional session includes further gems such as (Carla) Bley’s Ida Lupino and Annette Peacock’s Touching, the latter a lean and deeply reflective piece so moving in its tender beauty that it hurts. On no account miss this one!

Both; Albert’s Love Theme; Ida Lupino; Mazatalon; Touching; Ramblin’ (43.49)
Bley (p); Mark Levinson (b); Barry Altschul (d). New York, 1 July 1966.
Red Records 123117.2