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Paul Bley: When Will The Blues Leave

John Ephland By

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Ornette Coleman recorded "When Will The Blues Leave" in early 1958, released the next year on Something Else!!!! (Contemporary). Paul Bley played Coleman's blues four years later on The Floater Syndrome (Savoy Records), a trio recording with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Pete La Roca. Both versions—Coleman's in a quintet with trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Don Payne, drummer Billy Higgins and pianist Walter Norris—suggest more release than lament, their up-tempo swing treatments dwelling in a kind of blow-through-the-blues attitude, in contrast to a more heart-stricken disposition the title might suggest.

And that is what we get, in spades, with Bley's 1999 revisit to the song on When Will The Blues Leave (ECM), this time the pianist backed by longtime mates bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian. In fact, this visit feels more clipped, perfunctory even, as its restlessness (and greater velocity) suggest a search for release, perhaps in the spirit of the tune's title. I guess it was never meant to sound like "Love In Vain." But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

One of the rare, early appearances of Coleman with a pianist, Norris' presence on Something Else!!!! took place in the same year that Bley played with Coleman, as documented on Live At The Hilcrest Club (Inner City), with bassist Charlie Haden, Cherry and Higgins. Coleman (whose later reticence for keyboards became obvious) was using piano players as he continued to develop his harmolodics approach to music, which was moving away from traditional harmony and chords and more toward melody. It was a dicey time, as the music was in radical transition toward a more flamboyant, experimental 1960s vibe. That Bley was still committed to the languages of Coleman's direction is apparent on When Will The Blues Leave.

Is it a question, or a statement? Coleman's release lists it as a question. The two Bley recordings make it a statement. TheFloater Syndrome take on the tune is a tad more nuanced, more ruminative compared to what is on Something Else!!!!; the alto saxophonist Coleman spawns a more Charlie Parker bebop mindset, and Higgins' smart, up-tempo swing contrasts with LaRoca's slightly more untethered approach. Bley's imaginative experiments at the Hilcrest make Norris' piano work on Something Else!!!!, with all due respect, sound more workmanlike, less inventive, less exploratory. Maybe his hands were tied.

This 1999 recording rivals another of Bley's later outstanding trio releases, Memoirs, recorded a decade earlier, for Soul Note, in Italy. Perfect drummer Motian is also there, along with Haden, the perfect bassist. Both recordings point to Bley's magical charms at delivering piano-trio jazz like no one else has, before or since. Both When Will The Blues Leave and Memoirs stand as living documents of some of the finest trio jazz the idiom has ever produced.

Bley's comfort with tradition and what might be considered the avant-garde was one of the unpredictable enjoyments of listening to his music. He reveled in solo performances—key among them Open, To Love (1973), Solo In Mondsee (2007) and Play Blue (2014), all for ECM—but his particular natural grace was within the trio format.

When Will The Blues Leave is a mix of originals with two covers, including the title track. The other cover, the one that closes out the program, is the Gershwin ballad from Porgy And Bess, "I Loves You, Porgy." Coleman's tune is the penultimate piece here, both selections suggesting a kind of looking back at set's end after members have played marvelous trio, duo and solo tunes, all but one Bley composition, Peacock's delicate "Moor" the lone exception. "Porgy" becomes a solo parlor piano excursion, drenched in feeling, with an airiness that both sings and laments, and with a patience and embrace of the song's exquisite melody that makes you wish for more. Alas, it was the set-closer.

Past and present, that seems to be what is to be gotten from listening to Paul Bley's music. A restless spirit, venturing into electronics during the 1970s, he may be the most important pianist when it comes to having an embrace of the past, present and future of jazz just because of his historic span across so many decades (he had played with Lester Young as well as Parker, among others) during so many significant changes in the music.

Indeed, listening to Bley with Motian, and Peacock in particular, on When Will The Blues Leave, can serve as a reminder of how important Peacock's contributions have also been over the decades. His work with Bley (as it was with Bill Evans) was more interesting than much of the music he's played with former fellow Standards Trio mates Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. With Bley (who died in 2016), Peacock had more open territory, the standard the exception more than the rule. And, given Peacock's varied career playing in all sorts of emerging jazz styles during the 1960s, his affinities with Bley become more than obvious here. Listen to Peacock's engaging playing on Bley's "Flame" and you will hear what a solo sounds like in concert with a trio as it happens in real time, all three members at play simultaneously. Peacock's "Moor" is meaty, mostly vigorous, a trio venture that swings with an incessant, wayward spirit without losing its dynamic center. And the mostly implied sweet melody underneath keeps it all wonderfully lyrical. Motian (who died in 2011) plays with scrappy, fiery intensity, so Motian-like.

To call the Bley material "ruminative" would be a lazy generalization. There is so much thought and reflection in the five selections here (out of a total of eight, "Dialogue Amour" being co-composed with Peacock). In a way, the five constitute a treatise before this audience in Switzerland, the band hot on the heels of a reunion trio album Not Two, Not One (ECM).

When Will The Blues Leave enjoys an intimate, lively production by Manfred Eicher. This date is a production, among thousands for the label, that only serves to enhance what, alongside Memoirs, will always remain a stunner of a jazz piano trio outing.

Track Listing: Mazatlan; Flame; Told You So; Moor; Longer; Dialogue Amour; When Will The Blues Leave; I Loves You, Porgy.

Personnel: Paul Bley: piano; Gary Peacock: double bass; Paul Motian: drums.

Title: When Will The Blues Leave | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: ECM Records

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