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Paul Bley: Notes On Ornette

Considering the cataclysmic nature of his impact and the high regard in which his compositions are held, it’s remarkable how seldom Ornette Coleman gets covered. Part of the reason is that the changes set into motion by the free-jazz revolution didn’t slow down until things like measurable time and definable pitch were no longer basic to the music. So the avant-garde that Coleman had inspired rarely played his tunes or even, with a few exceptions, copped many of his licks-quite a contrast to the hard-boppers’ dissection of the Parker oeuvre. At the same time, many in the mainstream world still view Ornette as a charlatan. It’s really still a small number that enjoy blowing over a swing rhythm without predetermined harmonic references.

Paul Bley was among the very first to get Coleman’s message, as Ornette’s original quartet virtually came into being sitting in at the pianist’s Hillcrest Club gig in 1958. Live recordings from the time show that Bley fit in better than any other pianist ever would. History aside, the musical affinity of these two is obvious. Bley has always loved the unpredictable, and Coleman’s quirky lines seem to really inspire him. There have been so many Bley records over the last 20-odd years that only diehards try to keep up with all of them, but anyone who has ever enjoyed the pianist should seek out Notes on Ornette. Bley still enjoys throwing seemingly unrelated bits of improvised melody together, but here he often goes to the other extreme, spinning out lines that seem endless in which a few simple ideas continually transmogrify. His touch is more precise and brittle than ever, and he sounds positively happy throughout. Jay Anderson and Jeff Hirshfield are almost ideal in support. Both have excellent instrumental sound and big ears. I enjoyed this CD even more than Paul’s recording of Carla Bley tunes of a few years back.

Originally Published