Recorded a year earlier than the previous ESP re-released Paul Bley Trio session, Closer (ESP Disk, 2008), Barrage takes an approach that tends toward the frenetic. In fact, judging from the very beginning of the record when the trumpet and sax synchronize in a group of short phrase spurts ("Batterie"), the music seems to deconstruct bebop, go on diverse tangents and then conclude in a synchronous reprise. Such a pattern exists throughout all of the pieces on the record.
The intensity of the rapid-fire pace of bebop sticks around. Even when pianist Bley assumes the lead, or bassist Eddie Gomez splurges in a solo, or drummer Milford Graves splits off the mainline, the tempo remains unchanged. The texture seems to be the focus ("Ictus," "Around Again," "Barrage").
When the music actually does slow down a bit, each instrument establishes its own sonic principles, albeit contributing to the group effort. Bassist Gomez in "Ictus" and trumpeter Johnson and reedist Marshall Allen in "And Now the Queen" shift the tide by shaping the music so it can breathe a little.
But the pace is omnipresent. The musicians sustain their bebopifying on "Around Again." The vast difference between the music's bebop nature and what it becomes is that the musical intent defines itself in terms of the phraseology. The melody comes through only when instruments synchronize and the remainder falls into the realm of the abstract. Allen pushes his tenor to extremes within the set of parameters posed by the compositions; he does not go beyond them, as again on "Around Again."
Trumpeter Johnson and Allen hand the music back and forth, emphasizing how the exchange of phrasing works ("Walking Woman," "Barrage"). Graves and Bley perform at the same exchange rate, however, keeping it light the whole way through ("Walking Woman, "Barrage"). This "just-below-line" intensity, demonstrated by the steadily struck pizzicato energy of the bass and the tender, though tight and direct drum work ("Barrage"), characterize the modernization of the music.
As composer, Carla Bley (then Paul's wife) has lifted the music that Charlie Parker and his cohorts carved out and blasted it into a bevy of abstractions. Arpeggiations on the horns and scattered polyphony from the piano and drums transform the music to fit a completely contemporary framework. That framework seems to transcend its historical backdrop of hard bop and cordon off a zone all its own. It is too bad that the technology presented by the format for vinyl restrict the improvisations from going further off into space. This record exemplifies some defining moments for distinguishing the purpose of future music, not only from any musician in this group, but also among the numbers of musicians whose work at that time altered the direction in which music would go. Where freedom of expression overrode expectations and music aligned itself appropriately with human instinct.
Personnel: Paul Bley: piano; Marshall Allen: alto sax; Dewey Johnson: trumpet;
Eddie Gomez: bass; Milford Graves: percussion.