Pianist Paul Bley is an innovator whose imagination eclipses the norm. He never wavers from a challenge and there is always an air of expectancy each time Bley sits at the piano. He is comfortable in any setting and his music has been shaped by several peers. Among them were Sonny Rollins, Carla Bley, Jimmy Giuffre, Charles Mingus, Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman.
In the final analysis, however, it is his vision that propels the music forward. He fills it with vigor and dynamism, with space and lyricism; nothing is out of focus, every challenge is within his grasp. His eloquence is shaped by his ability to balance silence with sound, as well as his penchant for, and skill with, unusual phrasing.
Bley recorded Closer in 1965. He took a different direction from the previous album Barrage (ESP Disk, 1964) which he had recorded with saxophonist Marshall Allen, trumpeter Dewey Johnson, bassist Eddie Gomez and percussionist Milford Graves. On Closer, with bassist Steve Swallow and Barry Altschul on percussion, Bley concentrated on compositions by Carla Bley, with a tune each from Ornette Coleman and Annette Peacock, as well as an original.
Bley caresses melody. He gives it an organic soul with an illumining beauty as he does on "Violin." He goes off on a slight tangent, adding space, giving Swallow the room to ruminate on the bass with delicate phrases. The mood is reflective and quietly effective.
"Sideways in Mexico" is a more collaborative effort. Bley acknowledges the melody and then punctuates chords and phrases with a two-handed attack. There is a change of emphasis and direction as his lines dart and scamper and then open the door for Swallow and Altschul to hold an interweaving rhythm convention.
Another song of remarkable beauty and feeling comes in "Ida Lupino." The melody has an immediacy that nestles in the mind and Bley lingers over it, his phrases rippling like a gently flowing brook. He unleashes a couple of thunderous chords that startlethis only adds to his stature as one who stamps his credentials with extraordinary signposts.
Bley makes a welcome return with one of his best.
Personnel: Paul Bley: piano; Steve Swallow: bass; Barry Altschul: percussion.