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Paul Bley: Barrage (2009)

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Paul Bley: Barrage How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Music performed by Paul Bley is always an event of great import—no matter where or when, or in what context it is performed. But with Barrage this was the roaring '60s. Charlie Parker, who had set the world on fire, had left a meteoric legacy and in the after-burn came the smoldering avant-garde. Ornette Coleman may have defined part of the leading edge of the harmolodic music of the day, but it was the rhythmic invention that bound the melody. Eric Dolphy and Don Cherry unlocked the rhythmic secrets that Parker had invented and a few—like Carla and Paul Bley, Don Pullen and Charlie Haden, among a handful of others—propelled the music forward. Bley was probably alone—although Walter Norris made the only appearance by a pianist on Coleman's Something Else (Contemporary Records/Fantasy, 1958), and Mingus' music also suggests otherwise—among pianists who bestrode the avant-garde music world leaving any lasting musical legacy.

So this 1965 ESP-Disk release from the Paul Bley Quintet is a very rare gem. First, it features what could well be lost music from the pen of Carla Bley (then Paul Bley's wife), who was deeply involved with this recording and especially worked on putting together the title track. More importantly, it contains some of the finest music ever to be committed to tape and eventually released.

"Batterie" sets the tone and swing of the whole record—a roistering howl that reflects a tortured soul of the time. The brass and woodwinds elegantly offset its drum and bass dressing down of the chord changes, with "Ictus" developing this pattern. "And Now The Queen" is more narrative, exploring tone in a more spatial manner. "Around Again" gives lie to the idea that the avant-garde was conceived without thought for the development of melody and harmony, written as a tantalizingly circular harmonic equation. Bley is especially spectacular on his short but intense improvised piano solo shortly after the theme, and sets up Dewey Johnson's magnificent trumpet, soon followed by altoist Marshall Allen's mighty sonic expedition before the Quintet returns to the theme. "Barrage"—far from being an assault on the senses—is a treat for the aficionado of polyrhythmic music.

This is also a rare quintet outing for Paul Bley, who has defined trio music. Carla Bley, however probably conceived the set for a broader sonic canvas. The rhythm duo of drummer Milford Graves and bassist Eddie Gomez are outstanding. Barrage is a gem from the ESP-Disk archives; an important document in the progress of contemporary music, as fresh today as the day it was first performed.

Track Listing: Batterie; Ictus; And Now The Queen; Around Again; Walking Woman; Barrage.

Personnel: Marshall Allen: alto sax; Dewey Johnson: trumpet; Paul Bley: piano; Eddie Gomez: bass; Milford Graves: percussion.

Record Label: ESP Disk

Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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