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.
Why aren't there more recordings like Fly Away Little Bird? Perhaps it's because there aren't more musicians of this stature. The studio reunion of the legendarily experimental Jimmy Giuffre 3 in 1992 was reissued in 2002 on the French Sunnyside label and is a radical departure from anything the trio had done in the past. These studio apparitions of the band are their most seamlessly accessible while being wildly exploratory. In addition to the consummate improvisations and compositions by Giuffre (title track, a redone "Tumbleweed"), the tender meditations by Steve Swallow ("Fits" and "Starts"), and the bottom-register contrapuntal improves by Paul Bley ("Qualude"), this is a trio recording that uses standards such as "Lover Man," a radically and gorgeously reworked "I Can't Get Started," "Sweet and Lovely," and "All the Things You Are" to state hidden textural possibilities inside chromatic harmony. There is never the notion of restraint in the slow, easy, and proactive way these compositions are approached.
When one considers the instrumentation (alto, piano and guitar) and the personnel (Bob Mover, Paul Bley and John Abercrombie), it is not surprising that this date is full of thoughtful, chance-taking and often lyrical improvisations. Most of the selections are either duets or unaccompanied solos, and although there are some melodies, the music was pretty much all improvised on the spot. An intriguing set.
Although one often thinks of Jaco Pastorius' first solo album as being 1976's Jaco on Epic, producer/keyboardist Paul Bley actually gave Pastorius his first chance to lead a recording two years earlier. Coincidentally titled Jaco, this spontaneous set (which has been reissued on CD) is also significant for being among guitarist Pat Metheny's first recordings; completing the quartet are Bley on electric piano and drummer Bruce Ditmas. The music consists of three songs by Bley, five from Carla Bley, and "Blood" by Annette Peacock. Pastorius sounds quite powerful, but Metheny's tone is kind of bizarre, very distorted and not at all distinctive at this point.
Pianist Paul Bley was touring Scandinavia with a quartet made up of longtime associate Gary Peacock on bass and two brilliant British musicians, drummer Tony Oxley and John Surman on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, when they made this Oslo recording in 1991. Rather than a conventionally organized quartet session, the CD consists of seven largely improvised solos, three duets, and two tracks–the collectively improvised "Interface" and Surman's "Article Four"–with the full quartet. Even more unusual is the frequent emphasis on bass frequencies and slow, even solemn, tempos. Only extraordinary musicians could keep such a format interesting, and these four do, exploring room resonance with almost ceremonial levels of concentration.
This 1987 date teams the iconoclastic pianist with guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Paul Motian, and British saxophonist John Surman. While it's easy to argue that, with Manfred Eicher's icy, crystalline production, this was a stock date for both the artists and the label, that argument would be flat wrong. Bley was looking for a new lyricism in his own playing and in his compositions. He was coming from a different place than the large harmonies offered by augmented and suspended chords and writing for piano trios. The other band members – two other extremely lyrical improvisers in Surman and Frisell.
Gary Peacock shares front-cover billing with Paul Bley on this 1970 session, but drummer Paul Motian is also present on the first five tracks. (Billy Elgart replaces Motian on the remaining three.) There's a curiously straight-ahead, tempo-driven feel to this short and sweet disc, quite unlike the free aesthetic that Bley, Peacock, and Motian put forward when they returned to ECM as a trio on 1999's Not Two, Not One.
This trio date is dedicated to the music of Annette Peacock, former wife of both pianist Paul Bley and bassist Gary Peacock. While Bley is the undisputed leader on this date (as he has recorded many of these pieces before), it is flügelhorn and trumpet player Franz Koglmann who arranged them in such an exquisite manner. The majority of the pieces included here were originally composed as songs. They were vehicles for expressing the interior, haunted world that Ms. Peacock inhabits and featured her lilting, edgy voice, which slips and slithers through her deceptively simple melodies before erupting into a shriek of ecstasy or pain.