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Paul Bley: Circles

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Paul Bley's 1970 Synthesizer Show and 1972's Paul Bley and Scorpio are reissued jointly as Circles. Except for "Mr. Joy" from Synthesizer Show, all of the songs from these unconventional albums are presented here, featuring Bley's electronic experiments of the day. While the first half of the compilation sounds slightly dated at times, even humorous to modern ears, the second half is a better gauge of the unique advancements made by Bley in the '70s. No doubt, Bley was ahead of the electronic music curve when these albums were originally released in the heydays of fusion. In fact, many of the sounds heard on this compilation seemed to have guided not only jazz but the sounds of future film scores and video games of the late '70s and early '80s.

"The Archangel," the opening track on this compilation, is clearly a precursor to the high-pitched synthesized sounds heard on the Scarface soundtrack. "Nothing Ever Was, Anyway" has an eerie combination of Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda and the droid language of Star Wars ' R2D2. Still acclimating himself with the quirks of the early ARP synthesizers, Bley's solo spaces on the first-half of Circles are often experimental and rigid. On "Parks," for example, he has space and freedom to match new sounds with new patterns. Instead, he stumbles upon a basic blues riff that does little to excite the senses or define the synthesizer. This new instrument seemed not yet ready for improvisations.

By the second half of the compilation, Paul Bley and Scorpio, the synthesizer is more of a delightful side dish than the forced main course of Synthesizer Show. Tracks like "El Cordobes," "King Korn," and the truly out-there finale, "Ictus," move with a synthesized swagger that is less rigid electronics and more free flowing jazz.

The difference between the first and second album are also highlighted by the role of rhythm on each album. While Synthesizer Show featured different rhythm sections, the team of Dave Holland and Barry Altschul is present throughout Paul Bley and Scorpio. Their partnership with Bley on this album was more engrossing than any on the first set, providing better definitions of these new sounds and textures. The slow burn of "Syndrome" and "Gesture Without a Plot," for example, seem only possible when all the participants respond to a common goal with equal, deliberate vigor. Bley's wives, Carla Bley (first) and Annette Peacock (second), whose compositions are featured throughout this set, also appear on this compilation as vital elements to this new music.

~ Germein Linares

Track Listing: The Archangel/ Nothing Ever Was, Anyway/ Gary/ Snakes/ Parks/ Circles/ El Cordobes/ Capricorn/ King Korn/ Dreams/ Syndrome/ Gesture Without a Plot/ Ictus.

Personnel: Paul Bley- piano, synthesizer, Fender Rhodes; Dick Youngstein, Glen Moore, Dave Holland- bass; Steve Haas, Bobby Moses, Barry Altschul- drums.

Title: Circles | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Soul Note


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