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Pianist Paul Bley recorded two albums for ESP Disk. The first was Barrage in 1964, the second was Closer in 1965. On the first Bley used Marshall Allen (alto sax), Dewey Johnson (trumpet), Eddie Gomez (bass) and Milford Graves (percussion). The latter was a more intimate outing with Steve Swallow (bass) and Barry Altschul (percussion). If there was a common thread besides Bley, it was the use of compositions by Carla Bley. Barrage was devoted completely to her music and Closer featured seven of her tunes out of the ten on the record.
Allen and Johnson came in from the Sun Ra Arkestra but the quintet setting was not a deterrent. They stirred the melting pot with intensity and propulsion, playing off each other and finding their individual firmaments to spark the music.
Bley cuts through the swath on his solo journeys often calling in on Gomez for a dialogue. "Ictus" is a case in point. The quintet unleashes a tumultuous head with Johnson in the forefront, loosening skittering lines and quick shots before Allen roars in. He raises the heat a notch with Graves pushing the bottom line on the drums. Bley is an ocean of calm, reining in the intensity, opening up a radiant avenue of ideas and drawing Gomez into shaping the tune with a more deliberate and ornate approach.
The essence of improvisation within the context of composition is continuously developed by the band. They give structure its due but build complex, and often electrifying edifices around it. If the pulse in forward trust nails attention, so does the slower tempo of the ballad "And Now the Queen." Allen and Johnson introduce the melody awash in warm lines. When Johnson takes off he immerses the trumpet in the melody, leaving Allen to take the first tangent. But it is Bley who leaps into fertile new pastures by advancing the harmonic pith and extending the tangent of the melody.
Time has not diluted its impact and the album comes back to stimulate and cast a positive presence.
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.