As I Was Saying...
PAUL BLEY, ABOUT TIME (Justin Time). Paul Bley is one of the melodic avant-gardists who emerged in the mid-to-late ‘50s, searching for a way out of be-bop’s harmonic maze in the wake of Charlie Parker (others included Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Charles Mingus, and George Russell), and Bley—who’s played piano with all of them—may possess the subtlest charms. His solo albums are gems, and this, his latest, may be the most indigo sparkler. His style is spare, even stark, yet it’s amazing what range and depth of emotions he can tap with the slightest shift of a chord or an interval. Mesmerizing stuff, quietly romantic, deserving close attention. Superbly recorded, too.
CARLA BLEY BIG BAND, APPEARING NIGHTLY (ECM). Paul Bley’s ex-wife is, of course, a fine pianist and excellent composer-arranger in her own right, and this live recording of her 16-piece big band is the best thing she’s done in years. Like the other Bley, she has a knack for eking complex sensations from simple phrases—here by combining them, mixing, matching, setting them off against one another, and knowing just which ensemble colors should infuse which songlines or harmonies. The tunes evoke the entire span of jazz history, with wit, splash, swing, and a little funk. Excellent sonics for a live session, too.
DAVID MURRAY & MAL WALDRON, SILENCE (Justin Time). David Murray has recorded duet sessions with many pianists—John Hicks, D.D. Jackson, Randy Weston, Dave Burrell—but my guess is no project was more daunting than this one. Pianist Mal Waldron (who died in 2002, the year after this album was recorded) laid down his block chords and harmonies with a stern rhythmic discipline and a kaleidoscope of tonal colors, leaving enough space for only the most agile duelers to roam free. Steve Lacy knew how to navigate the shoals, but few others succeeded. Murray, of course, is one of the most agile players around, on tenor sax or bass clarinet (he blows both here), so the results are at least mixed. On a few tracks, the two never quite jell. On most of them, though, Murray maneuvers into the narrow speedway and coasts, floats, soars, and turns cartwheels, without ever losing the pulse. The sound, while not matching Murray’s best on Black Saint or DIW, is good enough.
WILLIE NELSON & WYNTON MARSALIS, TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES (EMI). Wynton has always played his best jazz trumpet when his brow is furrowed the least, and there’s no grimacing here. Willie sings some of his hits and some standards (“Bright Lights Big City,” “Night Life,” “Stardust,” “Georgia on My Mind”); his voice isn’t in the best shape, but it’s drenching with authentic, mirthful blues. Wynton blows his ass off. The rest of the band is good, too. This was recorded live in a one-time concert at Lincoln Center; the sound is fine. Sheer fun.
Next time: Reissues.