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Paul Bley: Barrage

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At times circumstance conspires to hide a masterpiece: it may be the artist's lack of reputation; perhaps it doesn't resemble his more typical works or it's just overshadowed by more prominent or better promoted music. Paul Bley's Barrage is such a work. Produced in 1964 when most of the band was unknown, it's a singularly non-lyrical and non-spacious work by a pianist celebrated for those qualities; further, it was issued in the midst of Coltrane and Ayler's greatest statements. Nonetheless, it's one of the essential statements of free jazz, a necessary update on the music Bley played with Ornette Coleman at the Hillcrest Club in 1958.

Here, Bley's at the helm of a quintet with trumpeter Dewey Johnson (his only other recordings were Coltrane's Ascension and two Paul Murphy sessions), alto saxophonist Marshall Allen in a rare venture away from Sun Ra's Arkestra and a rhythm section of bassist Eddie Gomez and percussionist Milford Graves, recording nine days before their work on Giuseppi Logan's ESP debut and redefining the potential activity levels for a free jazz rhythm section. Gomez and Graves each play more, all the time, than most musicians soloing, a virtual orchestra of bass and drums. The band plays full out, almost all the time, on six themes by Carla Bley, spiky free jazz anthems that run between 4:26 and 5:51. The music is intense, taut, dense and usually blistering, like a terse volcano.

The theme of the opening "Batterie" burns off in a mere 12 seconds and the whole thing is over in 4:30 with solos from everybody in the quintet. Bley's abstract, tangential lines are both brilliant and brittle, continuous with the chattering, edgy horns. "Ictus," all polyrhythms and vocal inflections, makes for fascinating contrast with Bley's earlier version with the Jimmy Giuffre 3. Even when the band slows down—for the Stravinsky-reminiscent "And Now the Queen"—the sound is corrosive.

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.

Title: Barrage | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ESP Disk

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