Wednesday, January 6, 2016

RIP Paul Bley

Was there ever a musician who could convey more emotion with fewer notes and a lighter touch?

This is the trio of Paul Bley on piano, Steve Swallow on bass, and Barry Altschul on drums on their 1965 ESP recording, Closer.  The song, Ida Lupino, was written by Bley's wife, the composer Carla Bley.  

Paul Bley died of natural causes on Sunday. He was 83.

Ida Lupino used to play late at night on WBUR radio when I was a student at Boston University, and listening again evokes memories of late-night studies in cold Allston-Brighton student apartments with the radio as my only companion.    

Reviewing this song for NPR, Evan Haga stated that the tune "succeeds with an elegiac recurring motif, overtones of folk and the blues, rapturous glissandos, and an expert grasp of volume dynamics. Bringing to mind Bley's softly exhilarating solo recitals, the theme segues in and out of a minor-key improvisation that meanders like pockets of storm clouds on an otherwise pleasant day. Bassist Steve Swallow appears along with the famously dynamic drummer Barry Altschul, whose metric looseness — shadows of rhythm that land on and around the pulse — draws comparison to the Bley drummer who recorded the tune first, Paul Motian.

"The song reflects the sort of challenging sentimentality that would define moments in later decades, when great acoustic jazz piano infiltrated a rock audience. Two particular examples, Keith Jarrett and The Bad Plus' Ethan Iverson (both Bley disciples), have written music in its image — serene, unsettling, and gorgeously melancholy."

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