Fully 35 years after Open, to Love, Paul Bley's seminal solo piano recording for ECM (which stands as a watermark both in his own career and in the history of the label – i.e., unconsciously aiding Manfred Eicher in establishing its "sound"), the pianist returns to the label for another go at it on Solo in Mondsee. Recorded in Mondsee, Austria, in 2001, and not issued until Bley's 75th year, these numbered "Mondsee Variations" were played on a Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, an instrument that is, like its player, in a class of its own. Bley moves through ten improvisations lasting between two and just under nine minutes each.
As is made all but plain by the title, Appearing Nightly is a live outing recorded by Carla Bley's big band over two nights at New Morning in Paris in the summer of 2006. Of course we've heard Bley's large group in live settings many times over the years, but in this case it's been five years since we've heard them at all – at least on a recording. Her last outing with a large ensemble was in 2003 for the pre-election year political album Looking for America.
One of Carla Bley's most rewarding recordings, this set features her tentet playing such numbers as "Wrong Key Donkey," "Drinking Music" and the 19-minute "Spangled Banner Minor and Other Patriotic Songs." Bley's wry humor is often felt and she utilizes such colorful players as trumpeter Michael Mantler, Gary Windo on tenor, trombonist Roswell Rudd and Bob Stewart on tuba in this unusual, somewhat innovative and always fun music.
That pianist Paul Bley, reedman Evan Parker, and bassist Barre Phillips had never played as a group before flipping the coin of Time Will Tell matters little. Whether you call heads or tails, you win. The fact that Phillips had played with the two who hadn’t emerges through the sensitive approach he elicits from each. By the same token, one cannot simply say that he tempers what we might be expecting from two powerhouses of the free improv universe. Rather, he spotlights the tenderness already flowing within.
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.
Keith Jarrett has recorded quite a few albums with his "Standards Trio," which also features bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, and virtually all of their releases are enjoyable. The music that they create is in some ways an update of the type of interplay that took place between Bill Evans and his sidemen, where all three musicians often act as equals (although Jarrett, like Evans, has most of the solo space). An uptempo "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" is a surprising highpoint of this disc but also quite memorable are "All of You," "Old Folks" and "How About You?"; none of the eight performances from the concert appearance are throwaways. Jarrett's vocal sounds are more restrained than usual while his piano playing is in peak form.
The first question one has to ask upon even gazing at the album sleeve of Paul Rodgers' Live in Glasgow in 2006 is, of course, has he still got it? That's like asking if Bob Dylan still has it, or Jimmy Page or Brian May or Ian Hunter. Hell yes he does! Recorded on the final night of a European tour, Rodgers and his bandmates, guitarists Howard Leese and Kurtis Dengler, bassist Lynn Sorensen and drummer Ryan Hoyle, lay down a tough, big sounding set of classics and more recent songs – including one new one – from his entire career and give them life, breath and fire again. We haven't heard live guitars sound like this in a long time, probably since the early '80s, nor have we heard blues-based hard rock in this way since the Cult's Electric album.
Paul Bley had known and collaborated with Gary Peacock since 1962, so by the time this duo session was recorded, one could expect that a certain degree of musical empathy would be in play. And yes, here there is plenty of the give and take of two old friends who do not go along with the mainstream jazz program. Yet one could also call this an album of twin monologues, for ten of the 15 tracks here are solo improvisations for each player, with the five duo numbers interspersed between them.
The second night of the 1989 reunion in New York of the 1961-1962 Jimmy Giuffre 3 with pianist Paul Bley and (now electric) bassist Steve Swallow in some ways eclipses the first. The fact that there is more integration between the trio members as a whole than on the first evening is certainly one place to start. At the very beginning, "Sensing" – with Giuffre on soprano and Bley playing bass notes in the lowest register as Swallow enters and takes over the role and Bley moves to the middle – is a stunner, though it is only four minutes and 13 seconds long.