In the early '60s, pianist Paul Bley's trios did much to expand the role of bass and drums, developing a conversational intimacy at the intersection of bop, modal, and free jazz. One of the best of those groups consisted of bassist Gary Peacock
and drummer Paul Motian
's rhythm section in the same period), but their only recording as a trio was part of Paul Bley with Gary Peacock from 1963. While the two have worked extensively with Bley in different settings through the years, this 1998 meeting was the first time they had recorded as a trio in 35 years. They touch on the previous session with Bley's "Fig Foot," a taut rethinking of the blues, but this is much more than a reunion. Each of these musicians is a virtuoso of space and the telling gesture, an inspired inventor possessed of an edgy creativity and willing to lead this sometimes pensive, sometimes rapturous music into new directions. Along with the sheer sonic beauty, there's probing, too, as in the alternately tense and playful, overlapping dialogue of "Set Up Set." Bley's gift for spontaneous melody is frequently apparent, while Peacock's unaccompanied "Entelechy" highlights an expressive depth of which few bassists are capable. --Stuart Broomer
Pianist Paul Bley begins by exploring the low, clunking end of his Bösendorfer, then plays a boogie riff, followed by a melancholy descending refrain and some jazz canons. When Paul Motian's drums enter, we marvel at the somewhat unreal multi-track recording rather than the playing, though his touch is as crisp as ever. Bassist Gary Peacock picks up on Bley's low-pitch intro, boiling some low-register funk. The improvisation on "Not Zero" resembles the bustle used to signify "busy downtown New York" in Broadway musicals. Did someone mention the word "jazz?" That's where all three players started. The ECM label claims the trio has developed a European slant, distinct from the "pure energy" of free jazz, emphasizing "subtlety, lyricism, and chamber-music sensibilities" (to quote from the press release). The abandonment of traditional rhythmic pulse is celebrated. However, unlike the music of Bailey, Oxley, or Brötzmann, this does not thrust the musicians forward into new realms, but strands them in impressionist stasis. As the disc proceeds, the languid pace and minor keys become utterly predictable, less like independent creativity than marketable clichés. After nearly an hour of this lackluster drifting, the sententiousness of Bley's meanderings starts to irritate ("Don't You Know"). This version of "free" is about sustaining a reverent atmosphere, not waking up to the sound of now. Any recourse to Improv proper would break the churchy spell. In the early '60s, the pianist Krzysztof Komeda combined the melancholy of Polish folk with out-bop to great effect. But this trio's free-improvised recasting of folk and jazz becomes soporific. Rather than turning improvisatory interplay into the main event, removing the bookending forms simply dissipates any energy. They sound like they could play this stuff in their sleep. "Not Two, Not One" has neither the variety nor density required for active listening, instead suggesting a species of highbrow mood music.
--- Ben Watson, JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc. -- From Jazziz