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Paul Bley: About Time

About Time proves (if further proof were needed) that Paul Bley is a separate category of jazz piano. No one else thinks like him. No one else would conceive and execute an album process and a form like this 33-minute improvisation. There is also a 10-minute “Encore” credited to Bley, although it is based on Sonny Rollins’ “Pent Up House.”

Bley’s previous solo recording, last year’s Solo in Mondsee on ECM, contained 10 individual “variations,” hermetic but finite. About Time is more challenging because it asks the listener to stay with a much longer creative arc. Bley’s transitions are rarely intuitive. He leaps without explanation between left and right extremes of the keyboard. Chord clusters suggest a meter, and then are abandoned for single-note outbreaks of lyricism, snatched from free air. Momentary flashes of historic allusion (stride, blues) dissolve into Bley’s proprietary halting language.

There is no obvious flow. There are instead vast quantities of fascinating individual ideas, some the partial skeletons of known or unknown songs. More fascinating is how these myriad ideas are impulsively juxtaposed. It is a design never truly finished. (Bley does not choose one ending, but postulates several.)

The “Encore” is Rollins’ celebratory anthem, slowed and examined and brilliantly transformed by Bley in a relatively traditional pianistic process of variations anchored by a theme. Listeners new to Bley should probably start here.

Originally Published