The Bleys, Part 2: Paul
The signal thing about Bley, either in solo or with others, is his thoroughly unsentimental romanticism. He steps on the sustain pedal quite a bit, but his most intricate filigree shines through in stark detail. He can wax on a ballad without ever overblowing the flourishes or letting the chords go trite. His left hand coaxes harmonies that, by normal rules, seem a half-step off-key but, upon closer listening, unveil hidden pathways into an otherwise sweet or jaunty melody. Yet the contrast isn’t jarring; it doesn’t even sound like a contrast; the two parts merge perfectly, if unconventionally, maybe because Bley never lets the rhythm flag; his songs—and, though they’re often pure improvisations, they sound like songs—have a muscularity; you can practically feel the notes whooshing through the clef bars.
Solo in Mondsee is just that: a suite of solo piano music, organized in 10 variations of three to eight minutes each, most of it improvised, laid down in a studio in Mondsee, Austria. It’s completely accessible, it invites immersion, and the more I listen to it, the more secret doors I find myself entering. It’s also a wonderful-sounding album; the Bosendorfer Imperial is rich and resonant.